Role models are critical in helping us to understand what is possible for ourselves. When our kids see people who look like them and reflect their lived experiences, whether in pop culture or in the halls of leadership, it sends them a deeply powerful message about what they can aspire to. This is one reason why equal representation for genders and race is so important in the media in particular.
Yet many groups of children struggle to ever see people who reflect their worlds and lived experiences. They rarely see themselves represented on the biggest stages – and particularly when it comes to ADHD individuals. What they may not recognize is that many notable figures count themselves among their ranks. They should recognize that these individuals in many cases have attested to the fact that they did not overcome ADHD in order to get where they are; in many cases, in fact, they harnessed their unique perspective and way of thinking to achieve great heights.
Indeed it has grown increasingly common for public figures to quite openly acknowledge their own journeys with ADHD.
And they come from a wide variety of sectors and backgrounds.
They count among them athletes like Simone Biles, Cammi Granato, and Michael Phelps, who ultimately turned his longtime challenges with focus into global athletic victory. Phelps’ kindergarten teacher had advised his own mother than he would never be able to focus on anything – a trait that drove him to succeed in the swimming pool, where Phelps finally found a welcome feeling of slowing down and being in control.
Entertainers ranging from Jim Carrey and Justin Timberlake have embraced their ADHD stories. Will Smith, for example, has shown what is possible when an enormously energetic individual is free to focus on multiple overlapping career paths rather than following the traditional playbook for success in Hollywood at the time of staying in his lane (whether that be rap or television or big screen sci-fi sagas).
Firsthand accounts have led us to believe that many historic figures may likely have been individuals with ADHD in an era before we know as much as we do today about the science and best practices that we have today: da Vinci, Edison, Churchill, and Disney are among some of the storied names representing an extraordinary array of backgrounds and disciplines.
Of course, not every single successful and accomplished ADHD individual will be well known in the newspapers or history books. The vast majority are successful, productive people contributing to their communities and organizations in myriad ways well far off from the spotlight.
As we consider some of those boldfaced named of high achieving ADHD individuals, it is worth asking – what made them so unique? Could anyone have done what they did? Or do they have unique sensibilities and perspective that they might lack if they more readily conformed to society’s expectations of how to think and behave?
Let’s ask ourselves – why put our young people in boxes that stifle what makes them unique? Why do we want them to start thinking like every other kid when we know that advancement and breakthroughs depend on originality? Some kids will benefit from speaking with educators or therapists; others may need dietary changes to help ensure their true self can shine. The bottom line is that ADHD is simply too complex and multifaceted for any single approach or prescription without better understanding the unique individual at the heart of the matter.
My own observation is that in many ways, the ADHD brain – or as I prefer to describe it, FastBraiin – is in fact capable of uniquely preparing individuals to succeed….as risk-takers, creators, and adaptors.
Is there a notable figure or person in your life who exemplifies the best of this example? Who would you want your kids to look up to as examples of exemplary individuals who have harnessed their unique way of thinking and seeing the world?