Could ADHD Be a Plus in the Right Environment?

A recent op-ed in the New York Times, “A Natural Fix for ADHD,” offers a new take on the rapid increase in diagnoses.

The author, Richard Friedman, MD, focuses on research showing that people with ADHD are “hardwired” to seek novelty. (In fact, he explains, seeking new things could have helped our ancestors survive.) Friedman, a psychiatrist, suggests the rise in ADHD diagnoses may be due to school and work environments that rely increasingly on repetition and routine. These environments don’t satisfy an excitement-craving mind.

The “fix” he recommends is to find an environment where the symptoms of ADHD—restlessness, the need for novelty and stimulation—are a strength, not a weakness.

He tells the story of a former patient who struggled to stay focused and succeed at his desk job. Everything changed when the patient left the structured office to begin his own start-up. “All of a sudden, his greatest liabilities—his impatience, short attention span and restlessness—became assets.”

Despite the article’s title, Friedman says he’s not advocating for constant novelty as a “cure” for ADHD. But he does offer possible solutions, like having schools offer more hands-on learning in smaller classes. He also makes clear that he’s not saying people shouldn’t use stimulant medications like Adderall and Ritalin, which he says are “safe and effective” and can help kids with ADHD.

What do you think? Does the right environment make all the difference?

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