The ADHD Circuit® (Article 5): Is it Creativity… or ADHD?
A few years ago, a friend of mine was working as a grad-assistant to Bonnie Cramond, a professor at the University of Georgia. They surveyed hundreds of teachers, asking half of the teachers to list words that described “creative” students. The other half were asked to list words that described students with ADHD.
The two lists of characteristics overlapped by 95%!
Some of the characteristics listed for ADHD were synonyms for creativity, but with negative connotations. For example, someone with ADHD may have been described as “impulsive,” while a creative person would be described as “spontaneous.”
For better or worse, ADHD and creativity seem to go hand-in-glove! The biology of ADHD may be the key to understanding why it is so closely linked to creativity. First, however, let’s establish a clear definition of “creativity.”
The Fundamental Nature of Creativity
Creativity is the ability to solve problems. Nothing more. Nothing less.
I’m not just talking about “creative” solutions to problems. ALL expressions of creativity are, at their most fundamental level, about solving a problem.
When an artist creates a beautiful painting on canvas, he’s solving a problem. Maybe he simply had an inspiration to create or a desire to express himself.
Problem: Desire to create or express himself.
Or, perhaps he hopes to sell it. After all, the Sistine Chapel started as a “gig” for Michaelangelo.
Problem: He needs money.
Solution: Paint for someone else.
By definition, a problem is only a problem when a solution is not readily obvious. A problem is, obviously, solved when matched with a solution.
So, what does this have to do with the biology of ADHD?
Creativity & the ADHD Circuit®
As described earlier in the ADHD Circuit®, people with ADHD do not have enough chemicals in their brain to make neuron connections efficiently. The front part of the brain sorts out commands and sends signals to other parts of the brain to execute them. In ADHD, however, some of those signals are not received; due to insufficient chemicals, those circuits are “cut” before the reach their destination.
The front part of the brain will also send out questions and scan the other parts of the brain to retrieve answers. Typically, we think of this process as “memory recall.” What is 3×3? The front part of your brain just used neuron connections to reach back into your memory. Hopefully, it recalled the answer, “9.”
When solving a problem, the front part of the brain scans for answers. There are many different areas of the brain to scan; there are billions and billions of neuron networks that the brain must sift and scan through to determine a viable solution.
Based on what we know about neuron circuits, I propose that a “non-ADHD” brain may have more rigid pathways for searching for answers; it is more likely to stick with worn paths (otherwise known as “in the box” solutions) because those are most efficient. The non-ADHD brain has more of these “worn paths” because it executes neuron connections more efficiently on a regular basis.
On the other hand, an ADHD brain is a little more lax. It does not have as many worn paths. It’s process for scanning the brain is kinda hit-or-miss. That’s not to say that is ineffective, by any means! It simply means that an ADHD brain is biologically more likely to find unexpected connections (a.k.a. “solutions”) faster and more efficiently than a non-ADHD brain.
Why Is Creativity Perceived to Be “Positive” and ADHD “Negative”?
It is largely speculated that Albert Einstein had ADHD. It also well known that he was not fond of school and did not get along with many of his teachers. But, he went on to make a very significant contribution to the field of physics. This seems like a conflict. But, it’s all about timing.
Einstein did not have the patience to sit still and merely answer questions. In fact, he actively denounced “rote education.” Instead, he was driven to think of his own problems (with his “wandering” neuron circuits) and search for solutions to them.
The skills and creativity of people with ADHD are not accessed effectively in a classroom. ADHD does not afford students the patience to sit in a classroom and answer other people’s questions. (Not many of us do, but people with ADHD have less tolerance.)
This impatience leads to disruptions and disturbances. These disturbances cause conflict with a teacher who has specific objectives mandated by her: school district, regional district, state department of education, and federal education department. She simply can’t manage ADHD disruptions amongst all of the other expectations on her plate!
Einstein had to wait until he could find environments that made better use of his inquiries and curiosity before his “ADHD” was recognized for what it is…creativity!
It’s all about the timing!
Of course, school should not stifle creativity. Little by little, the education system will have to change to keep up with the demands of the 21st century. In the meantime, we have to teach students with ADHD how to channel their creativity and function in school; this is important not only to survive in school, but to survive in life!
No matter what profession they choose, students will need to learn how to manage “executive function” tasks like learning, organizing, and managing time for the rest of their life! Next week, we’ll take a look at how simple this can be.
Other ADHD Circuit® articles can be found here:
Other ADHD Circuit® articles can be found here: