Harnessing Creativity in Children with ADHD

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

If you have a child with ADHD, you’ve probably noticed that sometimes they see the world a bit differently than others, often think outside the box, or act on ideas that other people might dismiss. You may have also noticed that they can focus much more easily when they’re working on creative assignments than on typical schoolwork. Many parents wonder if children with ADHD are more creative than those without, and if their child’s creativity can help them overcome some of the challenges associated with ADHD.

What does the research say about creativity and ADHD?

For decades, researchers have tried to understand the connection between ADHD and creativity. Studies have been conducted in lab settings, where participants with ADHD and without ADHD complete behavioral tasks designed to measure the cognitive processes that might underlie creative expression. Neuroimaging (fMRI) studies have looked for brain-based connections between ADHD and creativity, and other studies have taken a more ‘real world’ approach by looking for differences in the number of creative achievements in adults with ADHD and adults without ADHD. Despite all the research that’s been done, the findings so far are mixed and inconclusive, with some of the most promising results coming from the studies that have focused on real-life creative achievements. The mixed results don’t necessarily mean that there isn’t a connection between ADHD and creativity, but they do show us how much there still is to be learned about ADHD. 

How can I help my child use their creativity to their advantage?

Children with ADHD who are creative thinkers or are passionate about creative activities like creative writing, art, and music are inherently at an advantage if they are given the opportunity to develop skills related to creative problem solving or their creative passions. If your child has a clear creative activity that they are passionate about, then provide them with as many opportunities as possible to develop their interests and talents in this area. When children with ADHD are doing something that interests them, they’ll have a much easier time staying focused, and are able to feel proud of their accomplishments. Talk to their teachers about their interests and ask for opportunities to incorporate these interests and skills into their classwork and homework. Also sign them up for creative extracurricular activities where they’ll have the opportunity to connect with children who share their interests in a  setting that is less demanding than a typical classroom environment. 

If your child generally seems like a creative kid, but they haven’t found their passion yet, provide them with opportunities to try activities that they haven’t done before. Start by talking with your child about the kinds of things they’d like to try. Consider signing your child up for a class in something that has piqued their interest. Try an online or in-person singe session class in your area. Many community and recreation centers offer classes at reasonable rates. Just avoid signing up for anything that is expensive or requires a long commitment. The goal is to encourage your child to try a few different activities so they can learn about themselves and the things they enjoy. Once they find something that truly sparks their interest, they may be ready to dive in and commit to more classes or a more formal program.

Opportunities for creative expression are important for all children, and especially for those with ADHD. Encourage your child to develop their creativity at home, at school, and through extracurricular activities. Over time you’ll see their confidence grow as they strengthen their talents and make friends with other passionate and creative children.


Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


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This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.