I recently came across a 2019 study that sought to characterize the positive aspects of ADHD. The researchers found six traits, each with related sub-traits: cognitive dynamism, courage, energy, humanity, resilience, and transcendence.
They sound a little new-agey and vague, but this is a peer-reviewed article and the authors go on to describe each of their terms in specific, measurable qualities.
Cognitive dynamism was defined as “ceaseless mental activity”, in other words, a racing mind, or internal hyperactivity.
The authors went on to describe specific examples, such as hyperfocus. Hyperfocus in ADHD is characterized as a deficit in set-shifting and task-switching, but many people with ADHD experience hyperfocus as a positive, and associate it with productivity.
Another gift included under the cognitive dynamism category was creativity. Many studies have demonstrated people with ADHD generally have more creative minds than neurotypicals.
It makes sense when you think of what a divergent mind is: it’s a brain whose development and functioning diverges from the statistical norm. This doesn’t automatically mean better or worse, it simply means outside of the average.
There are common ways of thinking amongst those who are the same neurotype. When the majority of our population is neurotypical, their problem-solving processes will be similar, and they’ll come up with similar ideas.
When someone with a divergent brain looks at the same problem, we have a different perspective and are less constrained by social norms and expectations, both of which allows us to come up with unique ideas.
These traits are thought to contribute to some neurodivergent people becoming exceptional entrepreneurs. Research has described ADHD entrepreneurs as more intuitive business owners, and points to our outside-the-box thinking as an advantage in the business world.
Courage & resilience
When I first read “courage” as one of our positive attributes, I was a little confused. I didn’t disagree, but I hadn’t heard those of us with ADHD described in this way before.
As I read on, it became more clear. Neurodivergent people are described as more sensitive to issues of social justice and human rights when compared to neurotypicals.
We’re also described as being nonconformists, so we are much less likely to be caught up in groupthink, and more likely to remain firm in our beliefs, even when they do not align with popular opinion.
A very interesting point made by participants in this study was their spontaneity was viewed as fun and adventurous in certain circumstances, while described as impulsive and reckless in others.
Either characterization may be accurate depending on what is at stake, but it may be willingness to take risks and trust one’s intuition are also what make people with ADHD such successful entrepreneurs.
Energy & humanity
The authors and participants in this study discussed different types of energy: physical, psychological, and spiritual. I did not identify with the spiritual aspects, mentioned, but I did very strongly identify with their descriptions of will, drive, and volition.
I have always been an extremely willful and driven person. When I set my sights on something, I was bound and determined, and would work relentlessly to achieve my goal.
“Volition requires an individual to become energised by a strong desire to achieve something, then to strive relentlessly towards a threshold in which intrinsic motivation transmutes into a physical energy that drives performance and productivity.”— Deci & Vansteenkiste (2004)
To me, this is very much connected to the earlier conversation about justice sensitivity. If I feel an injustice has occurred, this energizes me to work against it, I’m driven to right the wrong that has been done.
All participants in the study said that if their ADHD went away they would miss their sense of humour. I am not particularly funny, but my son is hilarious and he has a very clever sense of humour.
An important way this is used in our household is to diffuse tension. If my son and I are starting to get annoyed with one another, often one of us will make a smart-ass remark and we’ll end up laughing instead of arguing.
I am a hardcore science-loving atheist, so the idea of spirituality makes me squirm uncomfortably. However, I understand the experience of transcendence through Dr. Porges’ Polyvagal Theory.
I’m not a neuroscientist, but I’ll try to give a quick overview of how the Polyvagal Theory relates to transcendence.
People talk about having a transcendental experience when listening to powerful music, sometimes called “frisson”, when you gets goosebumps or chills running down your spine. There’s a cool explanation for this — at least, it’s cool if you’re a science geek like I am.
The human ear has evolved to better hear speech. When the brain detects speech, the ossicular chain becomes more rigid. This quiets the lower-frequency sounds (such as cars passing by, or your neighbour mowing their lawn), allowing the brain to focus on the higher-frequency sound of someone talking.
Conversely, if the brain detects a threat (i.e. the sound of an incoming train when you’re walking along the train tracks, or a large truck honking as it is barreling toward you), it does the opposite. The ossicular chain loosens and the brain tells the ear to focus on the lower-frequency sounds in order to be alert for danger.
What’s really cool is that when your brain tells your ear to focus on higher-frequency sounds (like speech or relaxing music), it also tells your heart to slow down because it’s getting the message that your environment is safe and you won’t need to mobilize (i.e. run away) from something scary.
When your brain and ear focus on low-frequency sounds, this sends signals to your heart and lungs to prepare for potential threat, and to prepare for fight-or-flight.
This is why the background music in a horror film increases the viewer’s feeling of anxiety and dread, while listening to classical music or soothing jazz helps the listener feel more relaxed.
This is part of the transcendental experience. It’s a lot more complex than I can describe in a few paragraphs, but it’s an evolutionary and physiological response, rather than a spiritual awakening.
Attention to detail
Some call it being pedantic, I call it being specific and accurate.
I suppose it would fall under cognitive dynamism, but after my tangent on polyvagal theory, it seemed an appropriate place to mention attention to detail as another positive attribute of being neurodivergent.
© Jillian Enright, ADHD 2e MB
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