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So You Think You Have ADHD…Conversing About ADHD

Posted by Matt Hoag, Ph.D. on April 24, 2015

1matt resizedADHD or ADD and their symptoms have become so pervasive in the common vernacular that many feel like they can spot it and diagnose it! You may have heard people say things like, “I am having an ADHD moment” or “I am so ADD!” as they express frustration or humor at a behavioral misstep in their lives. Difficulty sitting still, paying attention, or being impulsive occurs for many of us. Our culture has become oriented to always being entertained as we often retreat to mobile phones or social media ‘fixes’ to soothe ourselves. However, for a number of children and adults, these difficulties are significant enough to interfere with their daily functioning (e.g., at school, work, or home, and in social situations) and require intervention of some sort.

While some suggest that ADHD has primarily cultural and social underpinnings, ADHD is generally viewed as a neurobiological disorder. Adolescents with ADHD may understand what others expect of them, but have trouble following through because they cannot sit still or attend to the details. They may act without thinking, experience hyperactivity, and have trouble focusing. Of course, all children (though typically when they are younger) struggle with focus and attention when they are excited or nervous. The significant difference is that young people with ADHD experience this in a variety of settings over time. These difficulties compromise the young person’s ability to function socially, academically, and at home.

Many of the young people we work with come to Evoke with ADHD. In a recent study, we found that 32% of adolescents and 30% of young adults were diagnosed with ADHD at discharge from the program (Hoag, Massey, & Roberts, 2014). Attentional issues are significant. Many young people with untreated ADHD can develop other behavioral issues (typically those with hyperactive or impulsive types) or issues with mood and anxiety (often those with inattentive symptoms). As a result, it is important to get appropriate treatment before these issues become more significant. While the focus of this summary is not on treatment, research suggests that ADHD is best treated with a combination of medication and behavioral therapy.

Too often we focus on what is wrong with people that have attentional issues – instead of recognizing what works or is beneficial with these symptoms. People with ADHD are often fun – can be the life of a party; creative – often think outside the box; energetic – seem to have a never-ending source of energy; hopeful – often don’t let their mistakes get in their way as they keep making effort; and many other positive characteristics such as artistic, intuitive, empathic, visionary, inventive, sensitive, original, loving, and exuberant. Many with ADHD can multi-task well or can focus intensely on the task at hand (sometimes this one is used to dismiss ADHD as a possibility as parents watch their child play video games for hours at a time!) Sometimes they are seen as ‘adrenaline junkies’ as well, as they seek out or crave stimulation or chaos. At Evoke we work to help people with ADHD recognize both the strengths and challenges that they may experience. We feel this begins to help balance out the focus they typically receive about ‘what is wrong’ with them because of this diagnosis.

There are a number of lists of “Famous people with ADHD” that invite this shift in perspective. While this is not an excuse for one’s behavior, it is an invitation to consider other ways of viewing these challenges. We encourage people to be accountable for their struggles, while perhaps understanding them in different ways.

Here are a number of people who have been considered ADHD or who clearly demonstrated ADHD symptoms based on historical information.

Famous People with ADHD

Michael Phelps Adam Levine Terry Bradshaw
Bill Gates Tom Cruise Ted Turner
Michael Jordan Jim Carey  Robin Williams
Stephen Spielberg  Jack Nicholson  John Lennon 
Albert Einstein  Magic Johnson  Elvis Presley 
Pete Rose  Prince Charles  Dwight D. Eisenhower 
Andrew Carnegie  Winston Churchill  Cher 
Bill Cosby  Walt Disney  Robert Frost 
Vince Lombardi  Malcolm Forbes  Ozzy Osbourne 
Stevie Wonder  Salvador Dali  Alfred Hitchcock 
Joan Rivers  John F. Kennedy  Whoopi Goldberg 
Richard Branson Will Smith  Ernest Hemingway 
Bill Hewlett    

It is exciting to see a young person (with these symptoms) in the wilderness have success and express a sense of accomplishment as they take steps forward with their strengths rather than focusing primarily on their limits. Too often in the past, these symptoms would create distress with others and create difficulties with follow-through and completion of tasks. These young people come to recognize their strengths and weaknesses together and have the ability to see them through several perspectives that do not limit them like before. Their ability to understand these challenges in perspective is inspiring and hopeful! 

Hoag, M. J.,​​ Massey, K. E., & Roberts, S. D. (2014). Dissecting the wilderness therapy client: Examining clinical trends, findings, and industry patterns. Journal of Experiential Education, 37(4), 382-396.





It is fantastic to see your focus on the positive aspects of adhd! In our society we can be way to quick to label "different" as "disordered" in a way that can be profoundly dehumanizing. I feel so fortunate to see many kids who "suffer" from the symptoms of adhd (at least according to their parents and teachers) have an opportunity to thrive in an environment that accentuates their many wonderful strengths. Wilderness, is an environment that lends itself so well to building on those strengths while providing an opportunity to practice strategies for working through some of the aspects of adhd that can cause distress. The distractibility, hyperacitivity and impulsivity that can characterize adhd can be either a blessing or a curse, depending on how they are directed. Thank you so much for initiating this important conversation!

Posted by Paul Goddard

i think I have all that plus OCD

Posted by Hector

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