Black History Month 2024: Celebrating Strengths and Creativity
CHADD is spotlighting resources focused on the experiences of African Americans who live with ADHD for Black History Month 2024.
This year the theme of Black History Month is “African Americans and the Arts.” The goal is to emphasize the creative abilities and contributions of Black people throughout history in literature, fine arts, fashion, performance, music, and many more avenues of expression.
Celebrity creatives are becoming more open and outspoken about their own ADHD diagnosis. The producer and founding member of the popular music group the Black Eyed Peas, William James Adams, Jr., known professionally as will.i.am, took part in the documentary The Disruptors and described his symptoms as a child and challenges in school. Grammy Award-winning singer SZA, Solána Imani Rowe, has shared on X (formerly Twitter) her difficulties with ADHD. The symptoms affect her ability to make music, she writes, and her process varies depending on when she takes medication and when she does not.
Researchers continue to study a possible link between ADHD and creativity. Often, individuals who have the combined presentation of ADHD, with aspects of both inattention and hyperactivity, tend to be more creative. Additional research has found that creative processes were frequently linked with the hyperactive-impulsive presentation. A study conducted in 2005, however, showed little difference in creativity in children with and without ADHD. ADHD can lead many people to more creative expression but is not the sole indicator of one’s creativity or ability to be innovative.
The disparities Black people face in healthcare, and specifically mental healthcare, can test the notion of ADHD imparting “gifts” to someone. Black people are diagnosed less often than their counterparts, frequently do not receive the correct treatment or interventions in school, and experience treatment access barriers.
Joy Banks, PhD, an associate professor of special education at the University of Connecticut and a member of CHADD’s professional advisory board, frequently discusses the barriers in education faced by many Black students who have ADHD.
“It’s important to note that days away from school due to expulsion and limited access to academically rigorous coursework have long-term academic and economic consequences for African American students,” she says.
The challenges of ADHD can have long-term and far-reaching outcomes. During a roundtable discussion at the 2023 Annual International Conference on ADHD those challenges were the focus of discussion.
“Nobody goes to school and says, ‘You know what? I think I want to go to jail when I leave here,’” says Brandi Walker, PhD, referring to the school-to-prison pipeline that funnels students toward choices leading to incarceration. “But that happens, particularly when executive functioning is impaired or compromised.”
However, the truths of ADHD, particularly for Black people, can coexist with the supposed “perks” of the disorder. Acknowledging the reality while also showcasing the possibility is a key factor for discussing ADHD with any child or teen who has been diagnosed.
“When we sit down to talk to a child about ADHD, it’s critical that we present the whole picture,” says educational psychologist Liz Angoff, PhD.
ADHD has been hailed as a “superpower” by some who have found a way to harness the symptoms of the neurodevelopmental disorder into productivity and creativity. Will.i.am tells audiences he eventually was able to see ADHD as an asset “a super skill set.”
The gift and superpower concept of ADHD is not always relatable, especially if someone feels pressure to present a perfect image of themselves. René Brooks, coach and creator of the blog Black Girl, Lost Keys, has detailed some of the other challenges that come along with being Black and having an ADHD diagnosis.
“Many of us are expected to project an image of excellence at all times,” she says. “We’re taught to be overcomers, to defy the stereotypes that are pressed upon us by outsiders. ADHD symptoms can cause people to [misinterpret] our struggle as obstinance and malfeasance. Nothing could be further from the truth. Symptoms are just that: symptoms.”
Even when someone is successful, symptoms can hinder productivity. Evidence-based guidance, treatment, and interventions made by doctors, psychologists, teachers, and other professionals can be beneficial and life-changing for children, families, and adults alike. With proper care and support, despite the challenges, ADHD can be seen as an asset on the path to creativity. Roberto Olivardia, PhD, says he tells parents of children of color, “Different doesn’t have to be bad. Different doesn’t have to be defective.”
More on ADHD and Black Americans:
- Black History Month
- Why Are Black Preschoolers with ADHD Expelled?
- Living Black with Undiagnosed and Untreated ADHD
- Healthcare Disparities and ADHD
- Addressing Barriers and Disparities: Black Americans and ADHD
- Black Adults Who Live with ADHD
- Why Is Untreated ADHD Contributing to the Increasing Suicide Rate Among Black Youth?
- Lost in the Transitions
- Treating ADHD in the African American Community
- Overcoming Myths and Mistrust About ADHD in the Black Community
- Helping African American Students with ADHD Succeed
- How to Improve the Educational Experience of African American Students with ADHD