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Garret LoPorto Headshot

Secret to U.S. Olympic Gold = ADHD?

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Why does it seem like the unique qualities of Olympic superstars are also the very symptoms of ADHD?

With the impulsive and "reckless" Bode Miller -- whose been known to be easily distracted with partying and socializing -- winning another Olympic gold medal, right on the heels of Shaun White's hyperactive and rebellious display of loose-cannon greatness. It all may start to make you wonder if the qualities of impulsiveness, hyperactivity, "unnecessary" risk-taking, and rebellion -- all normally associated with ADHD -- may also be the keys to success for U.S. Olympic superstars. Michael Phelps speaks openly about his ADHD diagnosis and it seems that instead of being something he had to overcome, his symptoms of ADHD, like abundant energy, restlessness and hyper-focus, may have given him a supernormal capacity to triumph as an Olympic athlete.

ADHD -- long viewed as a disability -- is proving itself to be quite an asset in the Olympic games. Hyperactivity, thrill-seeking, recklessness, hyper-focus, rebelliousness and impulsiveness -- all primary "symptoms" of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are proving to provide the winning edge that gives an athlete supernormal abilities in competition. Seeing Shaun White nail his own totally out of the box invention "the Double McTwist 1260" beating his already gold winning score, shows a temperament unlike the average competitor. Doesn't the "Double McTwist 1260" sound a lot like something an ADHD kid would get into trouble in gym class for coming up with and recklessly attempting?

Shaun White loves risk, loves to think different, loves to be a rebel, a troublemaker, a misfit, a trailblazer. These are all qualities of the ADHD temperament that are often disparaged by our public school systems. Yet these are the very qualities that make Americans great -- that give us that competitive edge -- that pioneering spirit -- that supernormal ability to transcend the competition and bring our pursuits to a whole new level.

With it so clear that many classic symptoms of ADHD are actually assets for Olympic gold contenders, we might wonder what else these "symptoms" may be assets for ... how about the risk-taking, hyperactivity and great impulses it take to be an entrepreneur, artist or inventor? So what is it that makes Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder a "disorder"? I argue that the disorder is in the context, not the person. People with ADHD don't belong cooped up in classrooms being evaluated on how well they can sit still and do what they're told. People with ADHD belong on the slopes, in the water, in the heat of competition, pioneering, exploring, and discovering new ways to transcend obstacles in the pursuit of greatness. That's where the "disorder" becomes a gift.

So maybe it's not impulsive, hyperactive kids that have the disorder after all -- maybe it's the society that has the disorder, because it bluntly insists on continuing to try to force these round pegs into its square holes. One definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing again and again expecting different results. Kids with ADHD virtually never try the same approach twice when it doesn't work the first time -- but the society that has been making impulsive, creative, hyperactive kids' lives in the classroom miserable for the last 50 years most certainly does.

The next time you see a child exhibit the "symptoms" of ADHD -- maybe instead of being critical, seeing them as having a learning disability and possibly putting them on medication designed to strip them of these qualities - instead we could recognize the potential heroes these people really are - and help them restructure their lives (like the families of Bode Miller, Shaun White and Michael Phelp's did) so that instead of being cooped up and frustrated in a little box of a classroom, they are liberated to soar with their compatriots in the thin air of top competition -- be it in athletics, business, innovation or the arts.

To learn how ADHD can be transformed from a problem into a secret of success, go here.

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