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ADHD in Children Health Center

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Understanding ADHD and the Creative Child

Creativity and ADHD share similar traits; now, some experts weigh in on how frequently the two are confused.


And what prompts the parents to seek a pediatrician's prescription in the first place? Cramdon says most of the time it's the teacher, who will often report to the parents that the child has too much energy, won't sit still, and won't be quiet.

"Our educational system is trying to fit a medical model where we look at anything atypical as subnormal, so if a child is different, we right away tend to assume there's something wrong with him, even if there's not," Cramond tells WebMD.

And, in fact, there has been research suggesting that the number of children diagnosed with ADHD can be plotted according to the rigidity of a school system. According to Ruf, one reason may be that teachers are simply not being taught how to recognize children's individual differences and celebrate them.

"We have become such a politically correct society that we are not allowed to acknowledge that kids differ, and teachers have bought this hook, line, and sinker, so much so that when they see there are differences, they explain it away with a diagnosis," says Ruf, a former teacher herself.

Diagnosing ADHD While Redefining the Creative Spirit

While for some creative kids it may be the "one size fits all" mentality that is responsible for their misdiagnosis of ADHD, for others it may be the very definition of creativity itself that is getting in the way. Indeed, in many circles creativity is defined as not only being able to "think outside the box," but to carry those creative thoughts to fruition. When that doesn't happen, children are frequently diagnosed as unable to focus and labeled as having ADHD.

But the problem with that line of thinking, says Palladino, is that those making the diagnosis often don't stop to consider the complexity of the creative child's idea or the skill level necessary to carry it out.

"Very bright, creative kids are the ones who think of very elaborate ideas, so they sometimes have difficulty carrying them through simply because they don't have the learned skills necessary to do so," says Palladino.

By contrast, she says, sometimes the children who can bring their ideas to fruition do so because the idea is relatively simple to begin with.

"You have to ask yourself, which kid is more dysfunctional -- the one who came up with the brilliant idea and couldn't finish it, or the one who came up with the simple idea and did finish it? The answer isn't always so obvious," Palladino tells WebMD.

Complicating matters just a bit further: Being creative and having ADHD are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

"There are kids who are creative that are misdiagnosed with ADHD, there are kids with ADHD whose diagnosis is missed completely, and there is a very large part of this population that falls into what we call dual diagnosis, dual exceptionality, or 'twice blessed' -- we're not talking about 'or' but rather 'and' -- because having ADHD and being creative can coexist in one child," says Palladino.

Not only can they coexist, but some believe that not getting the "dual" part of the diagnosis right is the point at which many treatment plans fail.

"In most instances the goal of ADHD treatment is to remove the stimulation, when in fact, highly creative children actually seek stimulation, and when they don't get it, the behavior problems can escalate," says Cramond.

Conversely, she says, give them stimulating creative activities and "it goes right to the heart of what they need."

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