“Oh, you’re just ADD!”
How many times have you heard this before?
Lots of people think multipotentiality is the same as or similar to ADD because both multipotentialites and people with ADD have trouble focusing on any one thing for an extended period of time, whether that’s a project, career, or hobby.
But are ADD and multipotentiality the same? Or do they just manifest themselves in similar ways? And how can you tell if you’re a multipotentialite, if you have ADD, or if you’re a multipotentialite with ADD?
To get some answers, I talked to Dr. Ashley Soderlund, a child psychologist with a Ph.D. in developmental psychology, who has a special interest in the way we nurture and thrive.
Cultural versus clinical definitions of ADD
Most people seem to think that having ADD means a person has a lot of interests and isn’t able to focus on any one area. But the first thing Dr. Soderlund and I discussed was the difference between culturally created definitions and clinical definitions.
Dr. Soderlund pointed out that if we were to use the whole term – “attention deficit disorder” – instead of just the acronym, our cultural understanding of ADD might change.
She referred to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) for the standard clinical definition, stressing that people with ADD and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) have a “deficit in cognitive attention in the brain.”
This difference is “very mechanical” and not merely a reflection on a person’s interests. The brain of a person with ADHD functions differently to the brain of someone without ADHD. It is unable to process information in the same way as a person without the disorder.
There are three main types of ADHD:
- Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive
- Predominantly inattentive
- Combined hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive
Children mostly fall into the third category, while adults typically fall into the second.
Think you’re too old to be diagnosed? A recent study suggests that the rate of ADHD among senior citizens is similar to the rate of ADHD found in children.
Multipotentiality versus ADD
People with multiple interests don’t necessarily have an attention deficit. Most multipotentialites can focus effectively, but they have more than one area of focus, whether that’s professionally, personally, or both.
If you’d like to find out more about the clinical definition of ADHD, there’s an overview, a questionnaire, and links to other helpful resources on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. The National Institute of Mental Health website goes into more depth about the different types of ADHD.
Highly sensitive personality types versus ADD
In our discussion, Dr. Soderlund also mentioned that she’s noticed an apparent link between highly sensitive personality types and gifted, creative, and intelligent people. Particularly in her observations of children, she’s noticed that the gifted are sometimes more sensitive, in that they take in more than the average child.
It can often seem as if this kind of child has trouble focusing. A child who notices more can be more easily distracted. However, Dr. Soderlund stressed that the difference between a person who is sensitive in this way and a person with ADD, is the ability or inability of that person to re-focus after the distraction has passed.
Dr. Soderlund explains this in Increasing Attention With Play! “Focused attention, sometimes known as attention regulation, is the ability to shift and focus attention and blocking out extraneous information when needed.”
This skill takes a long time to develop. It’s related to self-regulation, which, she explains in her article, The Most Important Skill to Teach Children, is, “the ability to control something– a behavior, a thought, movement, or a feeling.”
It’s actually a whole set of skills, including “executive function (control in the brain), emotion-regulation (control of feelings) as well as behavioral regulation (control of actions & movement).”
But I think I’m a multipod and I think I have ADD!
While being a multipotentialite and having ADD is not the same thing, these two ways of being are not mutually exclusive. Some people are both. These people have the exciting range of interests of a multipotentialite plus the challenges that come with having an attention deficit.
The good news is that there are very effective treatments and tools out there that can help such people. The first thing to do is understand that if you have ADD, your brain functions differently to most brains. Once you understand this, you can learn to train your brain to focus.
In addition to medication and cognitive behavioral therapy, there are some very sophisticated but simple-to-use computer programs designed to help those with ADD train their brains in the mechanics of focus.
No more confusion
I’m very grateful to Dr. Soderlund for taking the time to talk with me about the relationship between multipotentiality and ADD. Our conversation has cleared up any confusion about the difference between multipotentiality and ADD for me, and I hope it has for you too.
If you are interested in finding out more about these topics, I highly recommend her Nurture and Thrive blog, especially if you have children.
Do you have ADD or are you “just” a multipotentialite? Perhaps you’re a multipod with ADD? How will you use this information to improve your focus skills?