ADD Traits in Famous
and Talented People ...a scrapbook
According to conventional wisdom, the
traits of attention deficit disorder (ADD and ADHD) are an error of nature. But was Thomas
Edison the world's most famous inventor in spite of his hyperactivity, inattention and
impulsiveness or because of it? Why are ADHD traits so similar to traits shared by
"highly creative individuals" as well as to the ENTP, or "Inventor,"
This scrapbook contains clippings about
famous, talented and highly creative people who have traits often used to describe ADD
"explorers." This does not mean they have (or had) ADD. Many ADD traits are
shared by the "gifted," (top 3%) who are about as boredom intolerant as ADDers.
The purpose of this page is to destigmatize ADD traits, not to diagnose famous people.
Just because a child daydreams or is disruptive in class, is impulsive, fidgety and can't
seem "stay on task" does not mean they have a brain defect, although there are
many physicians, teachers, and counselors who would say otherwise. They may be gifted or
creative or just plain fidgety (and there's nothing wrong with that!)
This page is just a beginning (May 1997). More entries are
planned. If you have any suggestions for entries, please email them to Teresa with your source.
- Daydreaming and Inattention -
"Highly Creative Individuals": Many have a reputation for daydreaming. (The
Coincidence of ADHD and Creativity, Dr. Bonnie Cramond, 1995)
Robert Frost was dropped from school
for daydreaming. He was probably composing poems during some of his daydreams. (The Coincidence of ADHD and Creativity, Dr. Bonnie Cramond, 1995)
Frank Lloyd Wright daydreamed so
intensely that his uncle had to shout at him to get him back (Cramond).
Thomas Edison was said to be "addled"
because of his excessive daydreaming in class.
Nikola Tesla "had such strong
visualization abilities that he would imagine the workings of his inventions to great
detail without putting anything on paper or conducting any experiments until all of the
problems were worked out" ("Tesla: Man out of
Time" by M. Cheney, 1981).
ADDers daydream frequently, leading to inattention in
classrooms and other dull environments. Inattention is the most important diagnostic
criteria for ADD. The conventional wisdom on ADD is that ADDers daydream because
they can't pay attention, which isn't the whole truth. They can't pay attention to
something which is boring. ADDers are extremely, even painfully, boredom
intolerant. A daydream is more mentally stimulating, for example, than a grammar lesson,
and ADDers require this mental stimulation more than others. Calvin's daydreams (from
Calvin & Hobbes) are wildly imaginative adventures in outerspace. Calvin is a smart
kid who needs excitement, and school doesn't cut it. ADDers may actually be paying very
close attention, hyperfocusing even, to their daydream.
- Inability to Finish Projects
"Highly Creative Individuals": Creative people have many interests and tend to play with ideas,
sometimes losing interest in one to take up another. (The
Coincidence of ADHD and Creativity, Dr. Bonnie Cramond, 1995)
Leonardo da Vinci was
famous for his paintings but only managed to compose 17 painting in 67 years, and some of
those were never finished. Freud claimed that this was because Leonardo's father had
abandoned him. Leonardo said his inability to finish projects was because his interests
were "so many and so diverse." (The Coincidence of
ADHD and Creativity, Dr. Bonnie Cramond, 1995)
John Grisham "I am prone to
start projects that never quite get finished." (from the
forward to A Time to Kill.)
Nikola Tesla "pursued so many
ideas that he '...often did not follow-up on his intuitions, theories, and preliminary
experiments to the point of verification.' This became a problem because others were then
free to complete the invention and get credit for it as Tesla clamed Marconi did with the
[radio]. Tesla was driven to action at one point when his bookkeeper reminded him that
money was running out and his inventions were not being completed." (The Coincidence of ADHD and Creativity, Dr. Bonnie Cramond, 1995)
- Hyperactivity -
Highly Creativity Individuals:
In a 1986 study, students who scored in the top third on a test of
creativity were found to be significantly more hyperactive than those who scored in the
bottom third on the creativity test. They were found to have a "surplus of
energy," as expressed by rapid speech, restlessness, fast games and sports, marked
enthusiasm, delinquent behavior, impulsive actions, and nervous habits" (The Coincidence of ADHD and Creativity, Dr. Bonnie Cramond, 1995).
Ernest Hemingway at
age five: "Young Ernest burst in one day with the news that he had stopped a runaway
horse single-handed. His grandfather was much amused. 'Mark my words, Chumpy dear,' he
told his granddaughter,'this boy is going to be heard from some day. If he uses his
imagination for good purposes, he'll be famous, but if he starts the wrong way, with all
his energy, he'll end up in jail.'" ("Ernest
Hemingway, A Life Story" by Carlos Baker, 1969).
Nikola Tesla "was almost drowned
on numerous occasions, was nearly boiled alive in a vat of hot milk, just missed being
cremated, and was once entombed (overnight in an old shrine). Hair raising flights from
mad dogs, enraged flocks of crows, and sharp tusked hogs spiced this catalogue of near
catastrophes." ("Tesla: Man out of time" by M.
Thomas Edison ...
- Difficult Temperament and
Deficient Social Skills -
Individuals": "The stories of creative individuals with what are
considered difficult temperaments are so abundant that the characteristic has become a
stereotype" In one study, artist were found to be aloof and nonconforming to
conventional standards of behavior, which was thought to be related to deficient social
skills. (The Coincidence of ADHD and Creativity, Dr. Bonnie
- Academic Underachievement -
Highly Creative Individuals: In
a study of 300 eminent artists, individuals in the group were not typically considered to
be good students in school (The Coincidence of ADHD and
Creativity, Dr. Bonnie Cramond, 1995).
Thomas (Al) Edison's schoolmaster,
"angered by the lad's inattentive 'dreamy,' distracted behavior, frustrated by his
tendency to drift off during recitations, to draw and doodle in his notebook instead of
repeating rote lessons -- cuffed and ridiculed Al in front of his motley classmates.
Teachers saddled with disaffected students like Edison were judged by how many pupils were
promoted from one grade to the next, and they needed to rationalize the actions of
children who were 'not apt.' Sure enough, 'One day,' Edison recalled with bitterness many
years later, 'I heard the teacher tell the visiting school inspector that I was addled
and it would not be worthwhile keeping me in school any longer. I was so hurt by this last
straw that I burst out crying and went home and told my mother.' His indignant mother
'brought [him] back to the school and angrily told the teacher that he didn't know what he
was talking about, that I had more brains than he himself.'" Mrs. Edison pulled
Thomas out of school and began home-schooling, determined that "no formalism would
cramp his style, no fetters hobble the free rein, the full sweep of his imagination."
("Edison - Inventing the Century" by Neil Baldwin,
- Different Learning Styles -
Thomas (Al) Edison: "The tales
of Al's youthful curiosity consistently stress the consequences of his compulsion to
discover phenomena or validate nascent theories through direct experience: investigating a
bumblebees' nest in the corner of a pasture, he was attacked by an angry ram. Exploring
new ways to shorten a skate strap, the tip of his middle finger was cut off by an errant
axe. Deciding birds could fly because they ate worms, he mixed mashed worms with water and
convinced a neighborhood girl to drink the concoction. She got sick, and he got
'switched.'" ("Edison - Inventing the Century" by
Neil Baldwin, 1995).
- Sensation Seeking -
"Highly Creative Individuals" search
for variety and intensity in life. This results in openness to experience, flexibility,
high energy level, preference for complexity, playfulness, receptivity to new and novel
ideas and experiences (The Coincidence of ADHD and Creativity,
Dr. Bonnie Cramond, 1995).
- Frequent Job Switching -
Thomas Edison started working for the
railroad at age 13. During the next several years he was fired or quit numerous jobs in
various fields. His first termination occurred when a chemistry experiment he was working
on set fire to the train. His employer, a Scotsman, "burst in and summarily evicted
the boy from the train a Smith's Creek station, hurling Al and his paraphernalia onto the
platform --'Off ye go, lock, stock, and ivry drap o' chimicals with ye. Ah must a' been
daft when Ah let ye br'r'ring thim aboord!'" ("Edison
- Inventing the Century" by Neil Baldwin, 1995).
- Sloppy Appearance -
Thomas Edison "did not go out of
his way to tidy himself up for visitors. Most often you got the hayseed look." ("Edison - Inventing the Century" by Neil Baldwin, 1995).
- Other Interesting Tidbits -
Dr. Samuel Johnson: (Submitted by a reader)
"Here's an excerpt from a witty and
wonderful description of the great lexicographer Dr. Samuel Johnson,
whose contribution to the intellectual progress of his time was so immense that the
era is called 'The Age of Johnson.' Novelist Fanny Burney, upon meeting the great
Dr. Johnson at the home of Sir Isaac Newton, wrote in her diary:
"His mouth is almost
continually opening and shutting as if he was chewing. He has a strange method of
frequently twirling his fingers, and twisting his hands. His body is in continual
agitation, see-sawing up and down; his feet are never a moment quiet; and, in short, his
whole person is in perpetual motion.
"His dress, too,
considering the times, and that he had meant to put on his best becomes, being engaged to
dine in a large company, was as much out of the common road as his figure; he had a large
wig, snuff-colour coat, and gold buttons, but no ruffles to his shirt, doughty fists, and
black worsted stockings."
"His attention was not
to be diverted from the books, as we were in the library...having fixed upon one, he
began, without further ceremony, to read to himself, all the time standing at a distance
from the company. We were all very much provoked, as we perfectly languished to hear him
talk; but it seems he is the most silent creature, when not particularly drawn out, in the
world.... Dr. Johnson being taken from the books, entered freely and most cleverly into
conversation; though it is remarkable he never speaks at all, but when spoken to; nor does
he ever start, though he so admirably supports, any subject."
This is excerpted from http://www.edprint.demon.co.uk/johnson/sam-fanny.html