Is ADHD an evolutionary gift in a rapidly changing world?

In his controversial book The Singularity is Near, Ray Kurzweil speaks of a time in the very near future when human intelligence will be amplified by thousands of times current abilities with artificial implants.  Although these super humans will far outpace those without implants, Kurzweil admits that average humans will exponentially evolve their cognitive ability naturally in an attempt to keep pace.  We may be seeing signs of this evolution now, where increasing numbers of children are being labeled with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

What if this “disorder” was actually an adaptive measure to the “information age” to help children organize and process large sums of information quickly without obsessing on meaningless details?  A new research study seems to suggest that this may be the case.  The study concluded that children who have wandering minds may indeed have sharper problem solving abilities and better multi-tasking skills.

From the Telegraph:

Daniel Levinson, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States, said that those with higher working memory capacity reported ‘more mind wandering during these simple tasks’, but their performance did not suffer.

The results, published online in the journal Psychological Science, appear to confirm previous research that found working memory allows humans to juggle multiple thoughts simultaneously.

Dr Jonathan Smallwood, of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science in Leipzig, Germany, said: ‘What this study seems to suggest is that, when circumstances for the task aren’t very difficult, people who have additional working memory resources deploy them to think about things other than what they’re doing.’

Though the study wasn’t specifically designed for people diagnosed with ADHD, its primary symptom of “wandering minds” and inability to concentrate for long periods of time was the focus of the study.

In our increasingly outdated society that appears to value monotonous focus on narrow tasks, ADHD is viewed and treated as a disorder.  In fact, some public school officials have attempted toforce students diagnosed with ADHD to submit to being medicated so that they can sit through eight hours of excruciatingly boring memorization of meaningless details.

There are many recognized benefits to those labeled with ADHD.  Here are just some of those beneficial characteristics:

  • Ability to find alternate paths to overcome obstacles
  • Able to take on large situations
  • Adaptive/collaborative
  • Adventurous, courageous, lives outside of boundaries
  • Always finding alternate routes to any given location.
  • Always willing to help others
  • Ambitious – you want to be everything when “you grow up”
  • Artistic
  • Attractive personality – magnetic due to high energy
  • Being able to see the big picture
  • Being able to see the patterns in the chaos
  • Being intuitive towards others’ difficulties
  • Broad focus – can see more, notice things more
  • Can create order from chaos
  • Can do many projects at once
  • Can make people feel they are heard
  • Can see the big picture
  • Can talk about several things at one time
  • Can think on my feet
  • Career variety
  • Center of attention
  • Comfortable talking in front of groups
  • Comfortable with change and chaos
  • Compassion for others and for themselves
  • Conceptualizes well
  • Confidence
  • Constantly evolving
  • Courageous
  • Creates connections easily
  • Creative
  • Creative writing
  • Creative – musical, artistic, “dramatic”
  • Good in a crisis
  • Good at customer relations
  • Dedicated
  • Detail-oriented
  • Determined to gain more control
  • Eager to make friends
  • Eager to try new things
  • Empathetic, sensitive
  • Energetic
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Excellent organizers using journals and reminders (notes etc.)
  • Flexible – changes as the situation requires
  • Fun guy to be around
  • Goal-oriented
  • Good at conceptualizing
  • Good at motivating self and others
  • Good at multitasking
  • Good at problem solving
  • Good at public speaking (See the full list HERE)

Notably, each of these characteristics is an expression of independence and counter to being controlled.  Is it any wonder why “officials” seek to treat children with these abilities with mind-numbing drugs?  You can’t have a generation of free-thinking, problem-solving, independent humans running around if your goal is to have full-spectrum control over society, now can you?

It seems that a more responsible society should recognize special abilities and learn to harness and direct them to reach their full potential instead of suppressing them with drugs.  Regardless, adaptation to our environment is natural and cannot be contained.

As our information environment becomes saturated to the point where minor details are irrelevant to the big picture, those with ADHD seem to possess the modern-day “opposable thumb” that allows them to progress while left-brained, detail-obsessed, pseudo robots may appear stuck scratching symbols on caves all day.

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40 Responses to "Is ADHD an evolutionary gift in a rapidly changing world?"

  1. madkillermiller  March 22, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    i have had a theory similar to this for a while now.
    i think many people with so called mental disorders have more advanced brains than ‘normal people’. but due to the narrow minded society we live in, they are looked at like rejects.
    ther…e are the ones whos brains have just overloaded and i think they are the ones who shout at carrier bags in the street and do other ‘crazy’ things.
    i work with someone who has aspergers. to me he seems really clever, cool as a cucumber and an all round decent fella. so i do think that sometimes if you can handle it, a mental disorder can be a gift.
    i am often called ‘mad’ because of things i do or say. i can be very funny sometimes! and i do have some personal demons that drive me really down often. but my madness (or whatever you want to call it) is probably why i am such a popular well liked person. i sound big headed, but i honestly am not.
    i have never known if there was a name to my condition, but looking at your list, i think it might be a form of adhd. i dont know and i dont really care. i am who i am. good and bad.

    Reply
    • Antochi  March 22, 2012 at 10:52 pm

      no worries we r many in here:)

    • openyourmind  May 1, 2013 at 5:56 am

      so true madkillermiler … with 5 kids and 2 of them having adhd and myself, it is a hard cold world to be in in regard to how people and teachers treat these kids … they have more understanding and empathy than most … would be a great world if we all weren’t judged, categorized and made to feel lower just from having a ‘different way of working and looking at the world. …Give me a classroom of these kids any day to teach as their ‘span’ and ability to see the ‘big picture’ is amazing! and if their parents stick by them, encourage them and love them unconditionally, these kids will be our future!

  2. Andrew  March 23, 2012 at 12:39 am

    i thought from long time, that my ADHD is only considered as “disorded”… captilistic system always loved machine-like people who just can doing things instead of creating, improving or taking something out of boundry.

    also i can say that ADHD’ers are more emphatic and feeling-aware in relationships.

    Reply
  3. Jennifer  March 23, 2012 at 12:47 am

    While I agree with the majority of what is being said I have to say I disagree slightly that it only affects people in the way that is described as people are “bored” and lose interest in tasks because they are “easy”.

    “Daniel Levinson, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States, said that those with higher working memory capacity reported ‘more mind wandering during these simple tasks’, but their performance did not suffer.”

    These conclusions that have been drawn are slightly false. The study was not done on subjects with ADHD. And while the statement by Levinson is true, it’s application is taken out of context.

    I agree with the conclusions of the study. People with higher cognitive abilities will allow the mind to wander during a simple task. This does not mean that people with wandering minds find all tasks simple.

    The reason this is not so is because the mind appears to “wander” when it engages in avoidance which happens when a task is too difficult. I know this because as a special education teacher that works with students with all degrees of ADHD in ages Kindergarten through 8th grade I observe it all day everyday.

    If a student has mild ADHD and has a high cognitive ability, then this article may apply. But, believe me it is not a gift when students can not concentrate long enough to read a word and therefore can not read.

    Reply
  4. Jo smith  March 23, 2012 at 5:44 am

    Its not a gift fuck you. U try living with it,it sucks

    Reply
    • djee18  May 1, 2013 at 4:58 am

      I disagree. My ADHD cost me 4 years of useless school failure. I lost love, precious time and money. I still don’t regret it. I keep fighting it and keep finding tools and “works arounds”. Those losts made me stronger in so many ways. Plus. it really has its benefits, we actually are smart people. I even now have success in one of the worst jobs for ADHD: a call center. Eight hours stuck in a chair, multitasking computer tools, customers while focusing on solving the technical problem and writing down all of the call’s details.

      Trying to live with it sucks hard, real hard. But once you somehow manage too, you can start appreciating the little things that came along with it, giving you some great abilities in life.

      My two cents. I’m sorry it pains you to the point of being rude. I hope it also gets better for you.

    • Gabriel  May 2, 2013 at 4:06 am

      Jo smith y do you hate ADHD dude I have ADHD and that is afensive

    • Karl  June 1, 2013 at 8:13 am

      First, to Gabriel, Jo isn’t insulting people with ADHD (by my understanding) just sating that he has a rough time living with it.
      As for my main point. I agree with djee. I have spent 7 years on and of at a community college both full- and part-time. I’ve even lost a job due to my ADHD because I lost my attention to a training seminar while on the clock, automatic dismissal.
      However, since I got off my meds in 10th grade my life from the day-to-day and general mood has been boosted. I have tried to study maybe 7 different fields since that time and I learned real quick each time I wouldn’t enjoy that life until I found acting or crew for stage or film. I actually payed better attention to my high school girlfriend after I dropping the meds because I filtered out all the unimportant details.
      The biggest benefit is that I regained my appetite. When I made the decision to drop the meds I was 6’6” and weighed 175-180 lbs. You could see my ribs all the time without a shirt. I just didn’t have any body fat or muscle because I only ate the bare essentials. Within about 3 months I was 6’7” and weighed in at 225-230 lbs. Partially due to being more physically active but that was likely fueled by my increased food intake. Oh and also, the nauseated feeling all day too which counteracted the focus that the pills did give me.
      My point is that while I may be an academic and financial failure so far at 24 I’m happy that I’m not stuck in a career I hate and that I discovered the stage.

  5. Angel  March 23, 2012 at 7:04 am

    I agree with Jennifer and the same for autism…. mild cases may be a gift but in others it is not

    Reply
  6. cjbenji  March 23, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    it is my opinion that you can either view this as a gift or disorder, it depends entirely on how you address the person. My son has had ADHD since kindergarten. I was lucky enough to find teachers who found working with these kids a delight not a distraction. There is a place and an importance for all of us! The gifts we have been given we meerly need allow them to be used properly. To those who feel they are living with it, STOP reducing yourselves as if your difference is a hinderance and use your talents. My son can learn things so quickly, so what he won’t work on an assembly line or be a doctor. His ability to do a task and move on is his strength. A lot of people hate change, my son embraces it. A lot of people do not like working for temp companies or seasonal jobs but the chanhe of pace is great for my son, he won’t burn out. All I am saying is don’t look at your ADHD as a dissability. It’s not. It is no different than someone who has lost and arm, their site..etc. You just have to learn to work with it not against it.

    Reply
  7. Jimblejones  March 25, 2012 at 8:46 pm

    I’ve thought about this a lot. When we evolve a mutation has to take place so we change. ADHD or Aspergers/HFA are mutations that display increased intelligence and less pettiness (as long as you own your mutation)in changing times where information is so easily accessible. I think it also stems from troubled childhoods. When we experience high stress levels during childhood we become more introverted and keep to our thoughts, mostly due to fear of criticism and failure. If you can unwork the psychological damage and crawl away from your paradigm you might be one of the first to experience the new form of consciousness. Clairvoyance/Insight and Energy’s will be tools at your disposal to create a better world. Thank God that the 90’s were so wacky. Everyone had ADHD back then.

    Reply
  8. Bloom  March 26, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    The school tried to force me to give my son psychological drugs throughout his elementary and middle school years. I staunchly refused. When my job transferred me to the Netherlands, he finished his high school education at an international high school full of students with different backgrounds and ethnicities. He adapted and after graduating, went to university in the Netherlands. He managed all this without being dulled by psychological drugs during his formative years. Do not drug your children with psychological drugs so they will sit quietly on the couch zoning out to spongebob squarepants for 6 hours every night so parents can relax after a long day at work. Easy answer for the parents, what effect do these drugs have on your child’s mind? How will he cope when he is 15 or 25 or 35? By taking a different drug?

    Reply
  9. Paul  March 29, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    There are a lot of confounds… Firstly, they admitted the the study they were referring to wasn’t speifically designed to investigate ADHD, but rather, working memory. Also, how does it account for developing children with ADHD? The brain of a developing child is being bombarded by social and sensory information. The kind of information that this article refers to isn’t the kind of information that would enhance our lives at such an early age. Also, it dismisses that what they call “meaningless details” is actually essential for proper development. Ray Kurzweil is a messianic futurist – with idealistic followers. They make predictions about when this notion of singularity will come about when man and machine can merge and advance a technocratic-utopia. And they do this without actually taking into account the brain science that they use to make their points. The brain is the most complex system in the known universe and no matter how fast technology progresses, we are still ages away from understanding that complexity in full – if ever. Besides, evolution is gradual change of long periods of time – the modern era hasn’t been long enough for natural selection to run its course.

    Reply
  10. JD Anderson  October 27, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    I have full blown childhood ADHD… and I am 57 years old. An “anomaly” so I am told. Also 3 of my 5 kids have it (either ADD/ADHD). My IQ has been measured at 148+ — so I know I am not “stupid.”

    I am a successful artist (Oil Painter and Sculptor), a Project Manager for US Gov’t Information Technology sector and also an inventor and developer of “smart devices.” Presently focusing on a “Smart Tail Light” for motorcycles that uses sonar (optimized by ambient temperature and humidity sensing) to determine following vehicle distance and closing rate. From this determining probability of collision and warning system for motorcyclists and a “tailgater warning system” using holographic-diffusers on lasers to shape the light pattern. Also with optimized conspicuous flicker rates (based on scientific studies) and “Looming” technology (from scientific studies) to provide false feedback (retinal angular size growth of tail light size) to create the visual sensation to the approaching driver who is approaching too fast that they are approaching twice as fast as they actually are. This “Far to fast” — to encourage an immediate reaction to “slow down” and save lives. Brake light also triggers on negative inertial (not simply manual brake actuation as presently on most vehicles). Not bragging… just a lot of interesting things going on that cause me to be “spread thinly” but enjoy myself and my life to its fullest. I often wish we had much longer days… 36 hour days would be better than 24 hours (with “cat naps”).

    I have always regarding ADD/ADHD as the “gift” that allows me to be a creative, caring, problem solver. I stand up for others when they are wronged and they cannot. I have found myself helping people in harms way when others walk over them. Once I spotted a person having a diabetic-insulin low-blood-sugar reaction in a crowded restaurant and held him preventing him from falling while 50 people looked on and his two office mates (who came in to lunch with him) looked down at their meals pretending not to notice anything awry. Once I found an unconscious and flailing woman at the bottom of an escalator at the Judicial Square subway stop in DC. Likely 100 people or more stepped over her body as she lay at the bottom of the escalator. The ADHD prevent me from stepping over her… I am not saying I am better than anyone of those people that walked on but something makes me stop. I am very strong physically and I have come to the aid of people being bullied many times in school and on the street. I don’t know why… it is like I have a “brotherly” kind of love for EVERYONE. It is like the kind of love children are born with but loose as they grow older and somehow I have retained. I like that in myself. I look at myself in the mirror and I smile… I feel proud of myself.

    So what if I don’t fit well in typical “white collar” office environment or organize dates/schedules well, lose my cell phone 5X daily, etc. I know these things. I know I am “Date Challenged” — when someone asks me when and event happened I cannot affix a date to it. Sometimes not even a year or month… the even may have been 5 years ago but to me it could have been two months ago. But using compensating tools such as isometrics (behind the desk and meetings to control fidgeting) and technology tools to help me in weak areas like Outlook calendars with notifications — I can match my counterparts and do very well.

    I have “lucid dreams” which often center on any problems or challenges I am facing and through these I get some of the most incredibly creative solutions to problems and challenges. Many of my paintings and sculptures come from these dreams. Not sure if that is part of ADD/ADHD but very useful to me as it a great source of analytical thinking that makes sleep time into constructive time. Often I almost feel like what I get from the dreams comes from some other unknown source… not from within.

    If I had a choice to have this condition or not… I would choose it. In fact, I would pay extra to have it. For me it has truly been a gift. It makes life very interesting… I am interested in EVERYTHING and I learn for the sake of learning — without an end goal. I do understand I was a “handful” as a kid…. always some kind of disciplinary action going against me I recall… I didn’t understand till much later that I was wired different.

    But always, in my mind, I am sure it was “Different but better!” I also think that channeled correctly we ADD/ADHD folks can and should make some big contributions to society for the benefit of all and we should know that and take that as a serious “purpose in life” and do something big with it.

    Reply
  11. cody  December 8, 2012 at 8:49 am

    i have been doing a lot of reaserch on adhd latly i have it and want to no the truth about it i knew my hole life that i was somhow smarter but have been discriged by teachers kids and other peers in the past but i no that they are just hating cuz they dont understand like i do there not as fast as me i got kicked out of school 6,7,8,9 and 10th grade all in the firs nine weeks of every year i did no studying but passed my g.e.d when i was17 i basicly have a fith grade edication that doesnt sound stupid to me i can reamember in school the teacher would say the same things over and over in nine diferent ways i would get it the first time so insted of sitting and staring at her brokin recerd of a head i would do other things i hated school it was dredfull i pogressed at a much faster pase then others i would do the math in my head and the teacher would tell me im cheating they would start explaining somthing new and i would use logic to find out were they were going befor they got there it was like i was reading there minds i no that im smart and i dont give a shit about spelling u can read it anyway so stop getting cot up on things that dont matter and get ur head out of the clouds and start seeing what matters because it shor aint ponktuation or spelling it just getting ur point across

    Reply
    • DavidGordon  December 8, 2012 at 7:22 pm

      Son,

      Clearly you are quite intelligent. The form of writing IS crucial to getting your point across. You have a lot to say and try to simply understand that writing is how we clearly communicate the spoken word on paper or by text. It is not that hard.

      Simple, direct sentences are like thoughts and easy to form. Put two spaces before the sentence, then a capitol letter to begin the thought and a period to end it. Make a statement in sentence one. Back it up with a couple other sentences – have a concluding sentence and then a “return” to form a paragraph, which forms a completed subject of discussion.

      Perhaps in the standard school treatment you understandably developed resentment to the conformity required. Don’t take it out on yourself and your readers. Writing is a pleasurable activity and tool. Out of respect for your potential readers and yourself – begin a self-study of the process and think of it as a new challenge to make your written work and the contents of your brilliant mind shine. If you ever want help – hit me up on the email below. (I had to look up “conformacy” – not a word – and I write for a living.) Love the “broken record for a head” bit. Brilliant! It made an excellent, humorous image in my mind.

      You friend and mentor if you wish.

      David Gordon

    • Karl  June 1, 2013 at 8:27 am

      I want to preface this with I know this sounds like I’m talking down to you but I’m not. I used to think the same way until I actually tried to read my own material aloud and I just lost it. I too suffer and celebrate ADD and wouldn’t change it for the world.
      Grammar, spelling, punctuation, and structure really do make a difference in getting your point across in text. I look at that text and I see a rectangular block of lowercase letters. Nothing to help me find where I was if I lose my place or look away. As someone reads this response they can look for punctuation and capitalization which create shapes within the text.
      Something making paragraphs also helps with.
      As for the spelling it really changes how seriously we credit you because “cot” is something you sleep on and spellings like “ponktuation” slows down the pace of the reading because it is so foreign and I had to take an extra second or two to figure it out.
      In small things like text messages or self notes its no as important.

  12. DavidGordon  December 8, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    Also, Cody. Capitalize the word “I”. It represents how you feel about “you” as a symbol. Be tall and loud and proclaim, “I” think thus!

    Reply
  13. Jewels  January 14, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    I was diagnosed with adhd at a very young age. On one hand I can write lyrics to a song by hearing it once and as a result I have been involved with music since I was a teenager. On the other hand I can’t concentrate for shit when it comes to reading and writing and even to the extreme then if I want to read my mind shuts down and I go into sleep mode with intense drowsiness. I do not actually fall asleep but I get pretty close. Then on the other hand the only thing to stimulate me is anything and everything creative. I have always been great at talking and would always stand out at school for drama and dance and anything regarding addressing an audience. My catch 22 is that throughout performance arts at college I did great at anything physical but failed at anything written or that I had to study by reading. I didn’t bother going to Uni as I knew it would be the same struggle and instead decided to work from 20 after it took me that long to get through college as I changed my mind half way through my public services course and so did not complete it, and no it was not because it was too hard, it was because I got bored. So I left college and started a working life. I never got fired but I quit everything I did because again I got bored and then would get depressed after anything up to a year of doing the same thing everyday. I can not explain it well but it is like mental torture. Every single comment through out school and work is that I talk too much and I have spent my life trying to fit in and not open my mouth but as soon as I am comfortable it is not controllable and so I get moaned at.

    When I was 10 years old I was sent to the headmasters office to be told off for being disruptive in class. He was on a call and so I waiting in the quiet hallway for him to come and get me. As I sat there I zoned out staring at the stone wall outside. My body felt like that moment in the matrix where Neo touches the mirror and it makes its way across his whole body. I had this overwhelming feeling like my body was going to implode and all of a sudden nothing made sense…the bricks, the road, the grass, the trees…how was it all possible? How is reality possible? How is this physical state of being possible? It was the most uncomfortable feeling I ever had and I still get it to this day if I stop to think for too long…almost like my brain is rejecting life the way a body may reject a new kidney. I can not speak for others but I think maybe as a defense mechanism for this very intense mind fuck, my brain will just not allow me to concentrate as I lose all grasp of reality. Here’s my music (lol) http://www.soundcloud.com/jewelslindt

    Reply
  14. Aurelie  January 14, 2013 at 7:31 pm

    To those who say that ADHD is a gift… Have you worked with children and adults who are actually truly suffering from it? These people cannot follow a two-step direction! A gift… Come in my world and I think you will revisit your opinion.

    Reply
  15. Diane  January 26, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    My son has it is able to anything he wants he graduated college and is working as a geologist.. He also is a talented artist.
    He went through school without being diagnosed Some teachers do not have the “gift” or insight or patience to deal with these kids or any other that disturb the order they think they have to have to teach … You do not stuff children in a one size fits all category. Don’t get me wrong there are teachers out there who teach and are true guides who lead and help learn. Others are there burned out and unsatisfied with their jobs. They should move on and do a job that makes them happy.. My son can also work construction, drive semi,work as a chef, do flooring, roofing and many other things. He has ADHD in a big way but uses it well also he very seldom uses medication to deal with it. The powers that be are not always right in dealing with these wonderful brains — by the way his IQ tested in the top levels only 2 % of the population is higher than him.

    Reply
  16. Jo-E  May 1, 2013 at 4:23 am

    Autism.

    Reply
    • Karl  June 1, 2013 at 8:42 am

      I don’t think they meant to say every deviation from normal is a progression but rather that we need to stop thinking that biological evolution stopped in the 1920’s. Evolution is a messy thing. Autism is definitely one of those traits that if we didn’t have a concept of social responsibility, right to life, etcetera overpowering the natural survival of the fittest instinct many of people wouldn’t stand a chance.

  17. Yeah no  May 1, 2013 at 4:27 am

    I’ve ADHD since I was a small child, and I can say without a doubt that it has never gotten in the way of anything I do. I’ve never taken medication for it, and really sometimes I just forget I have it. It’s only when I’m around others, or when I’m depressed/stressed that I notice it again really, but lately I’ve been doing just fine. I guess for some it’s alot more of an ordeal, but I know for me it really is a “gift”.

    Reply
  18. Michael Collins  May 1, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    This study is total bull……um….uh….mmmm……ummm……what was the question?

    Reply
  19. Troy M  June 1, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    I had ADHD, I use to be the biggest bully in kindergarden, use to force girls onto the floor and kiss their mouths whilst they tried to scream, i’d slap my friends and make them cry for answering questions wrong, i was sexually involved with an 11year old girl when i was 10 (we’d watch my dads porn together then try it out). I was on dexies till my mum took me off them when i was 14. After that i got expelled from school, broke into tills at timezone, hanged out with aboriginals in the park drinking alcohol, Having unprotected sex with girls in the bush (sometimes getting blowjobs in public), getting into fights, started selling extacy pills in nightclubs when i was 20, broke into a macdonalds safe and stole $5000, been fired from every shitkicking job i’ve had since i was 16 (over 12 jobs), in my last job i got fired for getting into a punch up with a co-worker in a glass factory….. Now i’m 25, living alone in a shoebox aprtment in the big city, living on welfare payments, trying to make it as a performing artist. I idolise hitler, Mohammad and many other tyrannts. YES, I’m sick in the head and my life is a fucking trainwreck!

    Reply
  20. Diana  June 13, 2013 at 5:38 am

    I like the article, but the list seems to repeat itself.

    Reply

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