Society failing to recognise creativity associated with ADHD

New NUI Galway study finds lack of supports in educational and work settings

Society risks losing the benefits of lateral thinking and creativity due to lack of support for and understanding of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a new study has shown.

The research into the experiences of adults with ADHD, published today by NUI Galway (NUIG) psychologist Dr Pádraig MacNeela, suggests people with this diagnosis experience unnecessary challenges and suffering.

The most severe challenges occur in contexts where “linear thinking and rote learning” are favoured – starting with school and applying also to higher education and some work settings.

This is primarily due to the “ill-prepared nature of systems, supports and structures” to respond to the condition, rather than the diagnosis itself, the study finds.


Continues in later life

ADHD affects about 2.5 per cent of a population, and two- thirds of those with childhood diagnosis continue with the condition into later life.

The 19 participants in the study were adults ranging from 18 to 53 years in the Republic and Northern Ireland, representing both genders and diverse occupational backgrounds.

Only three participants had ADHD diagnosed during the school career. The vast majority s went through school facing difficulties with concentration, reading, sequential thinking and recall. Two participants have yet to be officially diagnosed.

All participants had had to overcome “negative social and self-judgments” about ADHD characteristics that they had developed earlier in life.

Third-level challenges

The “self-directed” nature of academic engagement at third level posed more challenges, he notes, and nearly all of the 14 participants with experience in higher education had either left an academic course before completion, or had difficulty in completing course work.

“In many cases participation at this level of education had been a wounding experience,” Dr MacNeela says.

The participants also felt that the work environment was “often unforgiving”, he found. “There was a strong expectation in work for the person to stand independently without the supports that might be expected at school or college.

“The implications of ADHD characteristics at work were very stressful for several participants, creating quite profound levels of difficulty,” he says.

Yet some participants also found it possible to do well and to excel at work, he found, as ADHD characteristics could work in the participants’ favour when matched with the right job context.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times