Donders Wonders Blog

Shine bright like a diamond: the positive sides of ADHD

This post is also available in Dutch.

Did you know that a psychological diagnosis like ADHD can also mean that you can do certain tasks even better than others?

An Apollo synthetic diamond. Image by Steve Jurvetson, via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.0 (].

“Shine bright like a diamond” is part of a title of an editorial in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry pointing to the positive traits of ADHD. This is a message that has to be shared with the broad public, not just the scientific field.

Terms like Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), autism, or other psychological disorders have nowadays become mainstream. No matter the psychological disorder, the focus often lies on the negative or “impairing” aspects of the condition, so to speak.

Moving away from a deficit-oriented view
The main aim of the editorial is to stimulate discussions on how we can move away from the more “deficit-oriented” view towards a perspective that integrates the resources and skills of an individual as well. The main challenge here is to turn individuals from being controlled by their deficits into being able to take advantage of their skills and resources.

As an example, ADHD has many impairing symptoms like inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity (read more here or in an earlier blog). However, despite these impairments, adaptive or positive traits need to be emphasized as well. For example, there are high-functioning (HF) ADHD individuals, meaning they are diagnosed with ADHD but function normally in daily life because they have developed compensatory strategies that enable them to do well despite their symptoms. Many overachievers with HF-ADHD have been, therefore, anecdotally reported in areas of entrepreneurship, technology, research, and development as well as in politics and sports. ADHD individuals are shown to have higher creativity compared to those without ADHD. Similarly, persons with hyperactive symptoms can accomplish jobs that involve a lot of moving around or traveling extensively much better than others.

A resource-based model
According to the editorial, the first step in pursuing this new perspective is to adopt a resource-based model of ADHD. Resources described for HF-ADHD individuals are “high-level energy, extraordinary creativity, out-of-the-box thinking, and spontaneity”. These positive traits need to be enhanced as well as integrated into self-regulatory behaviors to compensate for ADHD-related deficits.

One of the main sources of inspiration for this editorial was based on the research of Corina Greven, who used a special questionnaire (Strengths and Weaknesses of ADHD symptoms and Normal behavior scale [SWAN]) that allows you to identify positive traits and resources that may compensate disorder-related impairments. With this questionnaire, Corina and her colleagues were able to distinguish between extremely high and extremely low attentional, motor and impulse control, thereby providing new tools to bridge the gap between strength- and deficit-based models of ADHD.

By mainly emphasizing the positive sides of ADHD within this blog, we do not mean to downplay the impairments of ADHD that are leading to suffering and diminished quality of life. It is meant to promote a general understanding that also includes beneficial traits of psychological disorders, like ADHD, which have become mainstream nowadays, and to focus on promoting strengths in these individuals rather than just reducing symptoms.

Written by Mahur, edited by Lara & Marisha.

Read more:
An article on ADHD and increased creativity

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