ADHD: Is There an Upside to the Risk-Taking Behavior that Endangers Hunters Who Drive?
Without creativity & risk-taking we’d still be living in caves, praying a bear doesn’t visit. Many of history’s great leaps — sometimes for the worse, usually for the best — came out of risk-taking…
A new study published in the American Medical Association’s JAMA Network Open journal finds that adults over 65 who have been diagnosed with ADHD at some point in their lives are about twice as likely to be involved in automobile incidents and accidents as their non-ADHD peers.
The numbers are startling for both traffic tickets (22 for ADHD adults versus 10 from non-ADHD adults per million miles driven), and vehicular crashes (27 ADHD versus 13.5 non-ADHD per million miles driven). And, in a vacuum, this data could lead for calls from the “ADHD is purely a sickness” folks to get Hunters off our roads after they turn 65.
Clearly, the risk-taking behavior (and perhaps distractibility) that is part of the ADHD diagnostic criteria presents a challenge to Hunters who drive. And we should do everything possible to help them catch themselves when they’re impulsively responding the wrong way to, for example, being cut off in traffic.
But there’s also an upside to that same risk-taking behavior. As the old Apple ad goes, our nation was built by risk-takers. Our modern technology was produced by people taking risks, be they flying kites in thunderstorms, blasting into outer space, or experimenting with radium and X-rays.
America and Australia are among the countries with the highest levels of ADHD diagnoses in the world. Both were largely and initially (in the modern era) populated by the outcasts, misfits, and restless explorers of Europe. And both are among the world’s leaders in patent applications filed for new inventions (more so the US than Australia, but they’re doing well, too).
Neuroscientist and Professor Emeritus Richard Silberstein (Swinburn University, Melbourne, Australia) recently published a paper arguing that his research shows that people with ADHD are more creative than Farmer types:
“In addition to being highly creative, what do the following list of 10 names have in common?
“Leonardo da Vinci (Renaissance painter and polymath)
“Winston Churchill (British wartime leader)
“Virginia Woolf (Novelist)
“Vincent Van Gogh, (artist)
“Thomas Edison (inventor)
“Albert Einstein (physicist)
“Richard Branson (entrepreneur & founder of Virgin Airlines)
“David Neeleman, Founder, JetBlue Airways
“Paul Orfalea, Founder, Kinko’s
“Bill Gates, Founder Microsoft
“Although only 3 or 5 (depending on opinion) of the above-mentioned individuals exhibited autistic symptoms, they all exhibited symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or were formally diagnosed with ADHD.
“While the link between ADHD and creativity is now increasingly acknowledged, it was first recognized by the author, education reformer, conservationist and political commentator Thom Hartmann in his 1993 book entitled Attention Deficit Disorder: A Different Perception. Only now are we beginning to understand the neuroscience behind this association.”
Just like taking risks while driving in traffic, people with ADHD often “take risks” in their specialty fields by exploring beyond the normal parameters of the profession. They think out of the box, beyond the norm, and discover entirely new ways of thinking about or doing things.
As Dr. Silberstein argues, creativity itself is essentially a form of risk-taking. And the creativity of people with ADHD has positively changed the world for the better. Would we want to do away with it or bar Hunters from driving just to reduce the incidence of car accidents?
A better strategy is to help Hunter adults (and kids) to recognize when they’re going off on an impulsive — or creative — tangent. Then, when that happens in traffic, they can get control of themselves and react appropriately and when it happens while brainstorming they can choose to let their creative juices flow.
For example, years ago I was seated next to a pilot deadheading home on a flight from Europe. I got my private pilot’s license in 1972, so we had lots to talk about during the 8-hour flight, but the thing he said that sticks with me to this day was the ultimate Hunter admission:
“Being an airline pilot is hour after hour of boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror. And it’s those moments that I love and live for.”
When I was learning to fly, my instructor told me — on the ground as we were walking around the plane — how to pull back on the throttle and stomp on the rudder pedal for the “high wing” to get out of a stall-spin, the single most deadly thing that can happen to an airplane short of total air-frame failure.
As a plane’s angle of attack increases and its speed decreases, at some point one of the wings will slow down to the point where it can’t fly any longer; that wing will fall and pull the plane over into a spin.
We got in the plane and went up to 6,000 feet, where he put a hood over my face so I could only see my instruments, as he pulled the yoke back (raising the nose and slowing the plane) until the stall warning horn went off.
A moment later, as I was protesting that we were near a stall and needed to pick up some speed, the right wing fully stalled out and the plane I was flying fell out of the sky, spinning at over 170 MPH with its nose pointed straight toward the ground. It was making the same bbbrrrzzzzz noise you hear in those old WWII movies as planes are hit and then spin toward the ground.
At that point, my instructor pulled off my hood and, with a rolled-up newspaper, began hitting me on the head and shoulders while shouting, “We’re going to die! What are you going to do?!? Do it now or we’ll die!!!”
I’ll never, as long as I live, forget how to get a plane out of a stall-spin.
I told my pilot seatmate on that trans-con flight the story and he laughed; he had a dozen like it to share with me. It turns out many pilots (particularly fighter pilots) and flight instructors are adrenaline junkies or, as modern psychiatry would argue, “afflicted with ADHD.” As are skydivers (I did that, too, and broke my back). And Scuba and Free divers. And race-car drivers. And…well, you get the idea.
Without creativity and risk-taking we’d still be living in caves, lit by firewood, praying a bear doesn’t come in to visit. Many of history’s great leaps — sometimes for the worse, usually for the best — came out of creative risk-taking.
ADHD can be a challenge, and we should never minimize that. But instead of trying to beat or medicate it out of society, we will all be better served by teaching the Hunters among us the unique survival skills and ways to channel their adrenaline-seeking behaviors into productive endeavors (like flying airplanes or inventing things).
Then we can truly achieve a world the works, at least in larger part, for all.