Imagine a world where ADHD — is no more. Maybe it’s been solved by science, or perhaps the dreaded focus ills never found a place in the human mind to begin with.
Regardless of the cause, I bet this hypothetical world is something you’ve already thought about as you contemplated what it would be like in the future. You know, when science solved everything?
“Attention issues no more! We’re all freeee…..”
Not so fast. In this article we talk about what the good – and the bad – of an ADHD free world might actually look like.
Even more of a focus on “book learning” in schools
An article published in Scientific American notes that “the poorer the working memory, the higher the creativity.” What does that mean? It suggests that kids gifted in rote memorization prosper in standardized testing environments where recall is over-weighted, and creative students have an advantage in fields that demand highly intuitive, out of the box ideation..
This creates a performance bias towards the former group at school. “Teaching to the test” is already a cause of concern. In a world without ADHD, we lose those 1 in 8 creative students afflicted with the condition.
The ADHD counterweight effect
In my experience, there is a natural rebel in the classroom who helps restore order to the temptations of rote memorization style class sessions: the perpetually curious, highly creative ADHD students. Day after day, I see them asking “why? why?” until the teacher (and most everyone else) is thoroughly exhausted.
I kid only somewhat. In the classrooms I’ve seen, I can tell you that the effect is very real: ADHD kids help inspire creativity and critical thinking in EVERYONE around them, teachers included. They are not a burden, but a contribution in that respect.
But in our world without ADHD,those kids are gone. Lacking a formal diagnosis or even a recognition of a disorder, students with attention issues would be shut out, held back, or absent altogether. Truly a better world?
Might I suggest that to hold back the pitfalls of a dystopian rote-learning mill, you need a little ADHD inspired curiosity instigating some extra conversation to encourage higher level discourse.
An exploration of other obsessive pursuits would be tainted
It is ironic that those who struggle the most with focus can be the most doggedly persistent of them all.
Did you know that Michael Phelps’ middle school teachers were initially dismissive of him, even whispering in their notes that he wouldn’t “amount to much?” His ADHD did seem to give off that impression, as it made the young Phelps incapable of concentrating on anything taught in the classroom setting.
Guess who had the last laugh though? With 22 Olympic medals around his neck, I think it’s safe to say that ADHD was pulling Michael’s mind out of the classroom and into the swing pool for some mighty good reasons.
In Michael’s case, as is the case of many others who were able to find their true calling and pursue it doggedly until the end, ADHD was not an illness but an unfair advantage.
A workplace suited for yesterday?
In a world without ADHD, employers could probably expect more consistent employees, I will certainly grant that. Between myself and peers employed in various desk professions, we are no easy bunch to organize and control, especially when tasked with an itemized list of things to do.
But if you’re an employer who seeks out the task-checking type with maximum efficiency, you’re probably in for a shakedown yourself. Companies like Google aren’t waiting around for automation to drive simple checklist work out of existence. Google does wacky things like allowing bike riding in the workplace indoors. Not just because they want to seem like a cool employer, but because most business experts agree that innovation spurs growth and working in nontraditional ways fuels the creative fires. Again a place where the ADHD mind excels — purposeful novelty.
ADHD people are generally fast, out-of-the-box thinkers with the ability to hyperfocus on tasks they find interesting. In fact, being able to hyperfocus makes ADHD people ideal for highly technical tasks that require that extra level of grit and deterministic focus.
It is a double edge sword, to have a mind that is completely uninterested in the boring and hyper focused on the novel and challenging. But looking forward it’s pretty clear which type of person will be in higher demand. A part problem solver and part visionary will soon become a minimum standard employers respect in an age of near-human AI technology and rising education standards.
Social aspects: not so clear
Is a world without ADHD an end of attention issues? Unlikely. We should be realistic in our assessment that problems don’t go away as single illnesses are solved. Under this realistic lens, ironically less ADHD in the general population may create MORE problems for those with attention and focus issues.
Consider that we live in a world where understanding and acceptance is half the battle for illnesses that can not be seen. The stigma that ADHD is just a code word for “laziness” already controls the popular perception, and the stigma is even harder on girls and women with ADHD.
Take away the credibility of a formal diagnosis and you may have just set up a hidden monster to demonize and possibly ruin any hope of success or accomplishment for millions struggling with attentiveness or impulsive behaviors. I would suggest that a world without ADHD is also a world with less empathy.
ADHD is a part of the human condition
I hope this has been a fun thought experiment on a topic we’ve all thought about. It seems counterintuitive, but ADHD brings a lot to us when we carefully examine the pros and cons.
After all a partly genetic condition, we did survive and pass it on for thousands of generations for a reason.
I often tell people that ADHD is a disease if you allow it to be… or simply a different way of thinking if you prefer that. It’s completely up to you.