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The Positive Side of Adult ADHD

By Eric Metcalf, MPH
WebMD Feature

ADHD definitely has its drawbacks. But some symptoms can have unexpected benefits.

These include "problem-solving, creativity, being spontaneous, being risk-takers in a good way, and having the courage to follow their intuition," says ADHD coach Nancy Ratey, EdM.

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For certain people, "symptoms can be translated into positive factors," says Abigail Levrini, PhD. She's the director of Psych Ed Coaches, which provides services to people with ADHD in Virginia.

Here are some examples, according to Levrini:

Energy. One way to describe hyperactivity is "high energy." If you have a career where energy is important, such as an athlete or actor, this could be a plus. The challenge is harnessing that energy, instead of letting it scatter your attention.

Picking up on details. People who have trouble paying attention to things they find boring may focus very intently on things they find engaging. As a result, they may pick up details that other people miss.

Enjoying the present. Being impulsive "is basically living in the moment and not dwelling too far into the future, which many of us could benefit from as well," Levrini says.

Of course, this is risky if it goes too far. Impulsive behavior can create lots of problems when the consequences show up. So with this particular symptom, it's a matter of managing those impulses so they don't put you at risk or complicate your life.

Develop Your Talents

Strike a balance between encouraging your talents and managing your ADHD. Here's how:

Work with an ADHD expert. A therapist or coach who focuses on ADHD can help you find more success in life.

Stephanie Sarkis, PhD, is a psychotherapist who specializes in ADHD. She suggests you:

  • Take assessments that highlight your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Learn how to control hyperactive behavior and inattention. This frees up time and energy for improving your talents.
  • Set goals to change your thought patterns and behaviors.

Put yourself in the right environment. Many people go through life as a round peg trying to squeeze into square holes, Levrini says. This isn't the way to allow your natural talents to blossom.

If you're working or in college, figure out how you learn best. If you're a visual learner, review new information on flash cards. If you learn by touch, try to master new skills by taking a hands-on approach, she says.

If you're thinking about a new job or career, look for options that interest you and match your skills, says Pennsylvania psychologist Ari Tuckman, PsyD. Try to choose a career that matches your interests and strengths; it'll help ensure that your natural talents lead to success. Guidance from an ADHD therapist or coach can help point you in the right direction.

Ratey says she's known plenty of people with ADHD who used their problem-solving, risk-taking natures to start successful businesses. Starting a business is a big commitment, so you'll need to channel your attention and energy to support it.

Get treated. If you've been diagnosed with ADHD, or if you think you might have it, talk to your doctor about what treatment you need. That may include medication and counseling. 

"When you don't have treatment for ADHD, it's really difficult to reach your potential," Sarkis says. "When people get effective treatment, they're able to reach their potential even more, and they're able to focus on those positives."

Reviewed on October 31, 2013

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