Some traits of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can make everyday life challenging for young people: they may find it difficult to complete tasks or be prone to risky behaviours.
However, ADHD can also come with positive traits, giving young people with ADHD certain skills and ‘superpowers’ that can help them to form and follow their dreams.
To mark ADHD awareness month – taking place in October every year – psychotherapist Fiona Yassin, explores three ADHD superpowers and shares the importance of challenging the stigma that often surrounds ADHD.
Superpower #1: Hyperfocus
Yassin, founder and clinical director of The Wave Clinic, said: “Young people with ADHD may experience periods of hyperfocus: when they become absorbed in a certain task and find it hard to switch to another one. There’s no one exact definition for hyperfocus.
“People with ADHD describe experiences of a “hypnotic spell” where they can concentrate on a particular task for hours, without being distracted or interested in other things. They may lose their sense of time passing, becoming fully immersed in what they’re doing.”
Hyperfocus usually happens when a young person is interested in an activity, particularly if it is interactive or operative. Young people may be able to hyperfocus on their interests, skills, or passions: whether that’s writing, drawing, solving problems, studying for school work, or something else. Hyperfocus can enhance ingenuity, creating a zone where young people can freely form ideas and follow a creative journey.
Yassin continued: “Hyperfocus can be an incredible asset for people with ADHD. Authors may use states of hyperfocus to write books, while artists might find themselves in a focused creative experience. Young people may even hyperfocus when they’re studying for exams or immersed in a school project. For many young people, hyperfocus can help them to pursue their passions and reach their goals.”
Superpower # 2:Creativity
Yassin says, “Research suggests that people with ADHD perform better on some measures of creativity than others. Experts have found that adults with ADHD show higher levels of creative thinking and more creative achievement than those without ADHD. They also found that people with ADHD were less influenced by contextual constraints during creative activities, allowing them to ‘think outside the box’.”
Yassin continued: “Creative skills can help people with ADHD to navigate difficult decisions and tasks, pursue innovative ideas, and create artistic experiences. These skills are valuable in many different occupations and roles – from entrepreneurship to scientific innovation. Young people with ADHD can look forward to exciting and successful futures where they harness their ADHD skills to build life advantages.”
Superpower #3: Intuition
Yassin says, “Some people think that people with ADHD may be especially intuitive, looking at the big picture and quickly coming to conclusions. ADHD can make it harder to inhibit impulses, use working memory, and actively select certain pathways – making step-by-step, deliberate, and conscious analytical cognition difficult.
“On the other hand, their impulsivity and automatic or subconscious choices support intuitive thinking, taking in a broad range of data and arriving at ingenious insights.”
Why it’s important to challenge the stigma around ADHD
Sadly, stigma around ADHD can have a big impact on a young person’s self-confidence. Studies have found that untreated ADHD is associated with long-term poorer self-esteem, compared to young people without ADHD.
Misunderstandings may also mean that schools, workplaces, and other parts of society don’t see past the challenges that come with ADHD and fail to recognise their strengths. Plus, the stigma can also make it more difficult for parents to find proper support for young people, or navigate things like school and further education.
Yassin explained: “Some misconceptions about ADHD involve the personality of individuals with the disorder. People may think that ADHD makes someone impolite, unreliable, immature, or emotionally dysfunctional. Of course, none of these things are true.
“Symptoms of ADHD like impulsivity can lead to certain behaviours that may go against social norms, but they do not reflect a young person’s intentions or personality. Instead of judging young people with ADHD, we need to understand and accept their experience and help them to access support. Young people with ADHD have many incredible, valuable skills to offer the world – and it’s fundamental that both young people with ADHD and the rest of society can recognise and appreciate their strengths.”