I recently took part in a discussion about AD(H)D and how it affects creatives. Some people even wondered if people in creative professions are more likely to have AD(H)D because they supposedly often display symptoms. And one step further:

Are people with AD(H)D more creative?

The only thing I can say with certainty: There is a lot of research on AD(H)D and creativity, and it’s not straightforward and often leaves us with more questions than answers.

As an example: Creative and gifted children often exhibit traits we also see in children with AD(H)D – but without actually having AD(H)D.

You would need to look at a whole host of symptoms, and inattention/lacking focus/getting distracted are just a tiny part of a whole. You also need to look at reaction times, processing speeds, memory, inhibition control, and the list goes on. To fulfil the full criteria for AD(H)D, you e.g. have to have deficits in processing speed and reaction times – creatives who simply have focus problems, are inattentive or impulsive don’t have these problems.

Overlapping traits…

It is simply not as straightforward as saying that creatives are more prone to AD(H)D. Creatives are potentially more likely to exhibit behaviours and traits we also find in AD(H)D, and people with AD(H)D are likely to have some traits we correlate with creativity.

However, current research suggests no proven link between the two, just overlapping traits. People with AD(H)D aren’t inherently more creative than people without (several studies that e.g. use the Torrance Test confirm this), and creatives aren’t more likely to have AD(H)D. They just share traits that pop psychology loves to jump on…

What about music/voice students who are diagnosed with AD(H)D though?

The answer, as usual, is: It depends on the student and the severity of their symptoms. A few pointers I can give:

  1. Do one thing at a time, but change focus frequently (tune into when their focus/attention begins to shift or stops, and don’t try to persevere – it makes things stressful).
  2. Make things fun (also goes for homework).
  3. Teach them to make use of their senses to stay on track, especially visual (prompts, pictures, reminders, post-its, whatever floats their boat) and tactile (squishees, fidget toys etc since they help destressing and thus with maintaining focus – we call them “concentrated distractions”).
    Other than that, keep distractions to a minimum – concentrated distractions are a strategy, random distractions aren’t.
  4. Let them move if they need to. I know this is the bane of many music teachers’ lives, but it is so important. You can strike preemptively and incorporate movement and dance into your lessons instead of waiting until they can’t sit still any longer.
  5. Help them find creative ways for memorising and processing their thoughts: Recording, taking notes, taking photos, journaling…
  6. Encourage them to ask the questions instead of having to answer them.
  7. Allow them to withdraw. It’s much easier to keep the stress-response under control if you don’t have the feeling you need to fight it, or you’re being judged for it. Permission to just be is a big part of that.

Do you have any questions? Leave them in the comments…

If you would like to explore the techniques outlined in this post (as a singer, performer or teacher), please have a look what’s possible at Work With Me.

© Petra Borzynski 2020

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About Petra Raspel Borzynski

Petra Borzynski is a voice coach and therapist with special expertise in helping (performing) artists and creatives to overcome limiting beliefs and emotional blocks to perform better and without fear. She has helped hundreds of people to prepare for or sustain a singing career, find personal fulfilment through music and overcome limiting beliefs & performance anxiety. Her articles on singing, creativity and performance psychology have been featured in several publications.
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