ADHD could be the secret to the success of overachievers

"Gary you'll notice I use lots of analogies. I see images, so it's how I describe. My conversation hasn't been linear, have you noticed that?"

Jeremiah Hartman has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – but he dislikes the two d's in that acronym: "They're so sharp and negative."

Like many with ADHD, Hartman sees the world with wide, restless eyes – unconstrained by social etiquette. He interrupts me regularly but it's more intuitive than rude; he's so engrossed, he accurately guesses the end of my questions before I've asked three words of them.

Transfer these traits to the workplace, and you can see the potential for conflict or misunderstanding. But there's rarely asked question: could ADHD be responsible for the success of undiagnosed high-achievers?

Language revealing creativity

Speaking to Hartman, 35, is a meandering tsunami of rapid-paced charm, eloquence and enthusiasm: the use of my name to personalise our chat; his self-awareness; the care taken to ensure he isn't confusing or losing me. It's the most engaging conversation I've had all week.

And the most colourful: the analogies, as he warned, come thick and fast: like a ball held under water; (how he felt pre-diagnosis, which happened at 27); a colourblind person working in a paint shop (how jobs rarely fitted his specific skillset); like watching The Sixth Sense for the second time (how diagnosis made him view his story and character 'flaws' in completely different light); a drag car built solely to go fast and straight (how he feels in his job as a professional MC now).

The positive nickname

His original similes and metaphors reveal an overlooked side of ADHD: its positive aspects - with creativity being top. Hartman's imaginative diction has coined the positive nickname "ADDers," which escapes those dreadful double d's: It's a pun, encouraging focus on what people with ADD/ADHD add and contribute, rather than lamenting the drawbacks.

In previous roles, Hartman was always the "colourblind painter." Now he can use the "quick wit, high energy and enthusiasm" which made him unsuitable for sedentary office work, to be an MC who gees up audiences and smashes charity auction fundraising targets.

Turning that frown upside down

It can be a change of mindset for many ADDers: "At school, they may've been labeled lazy goofballs." He – and many other ADDers he's met through the support group he runs – prove the opposite: "We bring flair and energy to any task. ADDers are morale boosters – we keep things interesting because of the unconventional way we work."


"Eight hours is just a warm up"

Mark Brandtman, 60, was diagnosed with ADHD aged 40. It came after all three of his children were diagnosed: "The pediatrician described my son and I thought, how do you know me so well?" A Deputy School Principal at the time, Brandman discovered a book titled 'You mean I'm not lazy, crazy or stupid?' It was an epiphany: "That title nailed it. It was both comforting and confronting. I finally had an explanation."

Brandtman speaks at the same rapid pace as Hartman: "Things like not picking up on social cues were explained. In the workplace, we might annoy colleagues but can't put our finger on why. Colleagues often think it's deliberate."

The work ethic of an ADDer, though, can be formidable: "For 17 years I worked 8am – 7pm, six days a week – in the military and then as a teacher. Eight hours a day is just a warmup for those with ADHD, when they're using their energy to do what they're passionate about."

The scale

At the last census, 6.8 per cent of Australians were diagnosed with ADHD.

In a recent BBC Horizon episode, ADHD and Me, impressionist Rory Bremner was diagnosed on air. He believes the random associations it throws up feed his comedy. Similarly, TV's most creative chef, Heston Blumenthal recently told Executive Style how ADHD helps his imaginative juices flow.

A natural advantage

Scientists believe ADHD helped society by providing risk-takers who identify dangers and map out boundaries. Mark Brandtman is keen on this point: "In nature, we were the hunters. We respond quickest in an emergency." This applies to the workplace: "We gravitate to creative jobs – marketing, advertising, start-ups – they're interesting, quick, high-pressured. We thrive there; less so in administrative roles or retirement!"

Hartman adds: "ADDers are overrepresented as entrepreneurs – we're adventurous mavericks, we take risks. We don't have the mindset that says 'hang on let's think ahead.'"

Kerry Cooney lectures at Charles Darwin University and is the founder of Every Day with ADHD. She says: "When not destroyed by schooling, individuals with ADHD have a huge capacity for success. If they have coping mechanisms and have chosen their career wisely, they're the cleverest minds around. Inventors, entrepreneurs, scientists – major problem solvers. They see the world from a different perspective."

Have you, or does someone you know, suffer from ADHD? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

If this article has raised issues you'd like to discuss, call the ADDults with ADHD helpline on 02 9889 5977