The Famous Faces of ADHD
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder. An estimated one in twenty people (5%) from English-speaking households have ADHD, yet it is poorly understood and frequently remains undiagnosed. Less than 20% of ADHD individuals seek help, which often means that many affected people do not receive the appropriate support and guidance for this condition. This can cause much distress in family, work and social situations. The common symptoms of ADHD include difficulty staying organized, being forgetful about completing tasks, having difficulty sitting still, and having trouble concentrating or focusing. The three main subgroups of ADHA include inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. For more information on the common characteristics of ADHA, read this article on What is ADHD?
The public perception of ADHD is often negative, with many forming assumptions based on misinformation that is not supported by the latest neuropsychological research. While a slower development in achievement and social skills might occur if kids are left undiagnosed, generally those with ADHD generally have normal intellect. In fact, they can make great leaders, entertainers, entrepreneurs, and can thrive in the creative arts, sports, science and business fields. Although there will still be challenges, many people with adult ADHD do well in fields that they find interesting and challenging enough to hold their attention.
We've listed ten well-known figures to demonstrate that ADHD should never stop one from living a full, happy, and successful life. The truth is, those who are affected by ADHD are often naturally blessed with a number of personality strengths. They can be energetic, spontaneous, creative, inventive, and hyper-focused on particular tasks. They can work intently on things that interest them, which can help them rise to the top of their fields. Dr. Kathleen Nadeau, author of ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life, states that "people who think ADHD means having a short attention span misunderstand what ADHD is ... A better way to look at it is that people with ADHD have a disregulated attention span". With this is mind, here are some familiar faces who have publicly confirmed their diagnosis of ADHD:
1. Simone Biles - Olympic Gymnast
Simone Biles is the 2016 Olympic gold medalist of the individual all-around, vault, and floor categories. She was also part of the gold-medal-winning team dubbed the "Final Five" at the 2016 Olympic Games, setting a record for the most gold medals in women's gymnastics at a single Olympic Games. Having won a combined total of 25 Olympic and World Championship medals in her career so far, Biles is the most decorated American gymnast. What most people, however, don't know about Biles is that she was diagnosed with ADHD when she was a school kid. Biles maintains a positive attitude about her ADHD, quoting it as a "cool thing" because of the high levels of energy she had. Gymnastics provided a great outlet for this energy, and Biles' success proves that she combined this energy with an exceptional work-ethic and focus to reach her goals.
2. Justin Timberlake - American Actor and Singer-Songwriter
Timberlake, along with Chasez, Lance Bass, Joey Fatone and Chris Kirkpatrick, formed the all-male singing group *NSYNC. This boy band became one of the most popular pop groups of the 1990s. Their PopOdyssey tour became one of the biggest tours of the year, earning $90 million. In 2002, Timberlake started to pursue a solo career, with his first solo album, Justified, selling more than seven million copies worldwide. He received two Grammy Awards in 2004 for Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. This superstar recording artist and actor has both ADHD and OCD. While he is yet to speak publicly about his co-morbid conditions, it is evident that Timberlake is able to push through to success.
3. David Neeleman - Entrepreneur
David Neeleman is a Brazilian-American entrepreneur who has founded four commercial airlines: Morris Air, WestJet, JetBlue Airways and Azul Brazilian Airlines. He is also the co-owner of another European commercial airline, TAP Air Portugal, along with Humberto Pedrosa and Aigle Azur. Neeleman is arguably the most prolific and successful airline entrepreneur in recent history. Business Insider has credited him for his keen business instincts and his eye for spotting openings in the market. David Neeleman attributes his success to his ADHD, stating, "I knew I had strengths that other people didn't have, and my parents reminded me of them when my teachers didn't see them ... I can distill complicated facts and come up with simple solutions. I can look out on an industry with all kinds of problems and say, 'How can I do this better?'. My ADHD brain naturally searches for better ways of doing things". Although Neeleman admits that he finds it difficult to do the mundane tasks in life, he stresses that "if someone told me you could be normal or you could continue to have your ADHD, I would take ADHD".
4. Michael Phelps - Olympian Swimmer
Michael Phelps is known internationally as a now retired American swimmer who holds the record for the most Olympic medals won by any athlete, including 23 gold medals, three silvers and two bronzes. He has also set 39 world records, the most of all time. At the 2016 Olympic Games, at 31 years old, he won five gold medals and one silver, becoming the oldest individual gold medalist in Olympic swimming history, as well as the first swimmer to win four consecutive golds in the same event, the 200-meter individual medley.
Before swimming, however, Phelps, who was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 9, had trouble with inattention. A teacher told his mother, "your son will never be able to focus on anything". Nonetheless, after trying out competitive swimming, he felt like he was in control for the first time. While he couldn't sit in class without fidgeting, he began to swim for up to three hours at the pool after school. Phelps' story demonstrates that a child with ADHD can focus on a task when put in an appropriate environment.
5. Adam Levine - Singer and Songwriter
Adam Levine is the Grammy award-winning lead vocalist of the pop rock band Maroon 5, and a host of the The Voice. While he also seemed to struggle with sitting still, completing work, and focusing as a kid, he found his creative talent in songwriting and singing. However, he still finds himself dealing with ADHD daily, stating that he has "trouble writing songs and recording in the studio ... [not always being able to] focus and complete everything I had to. I remember being in the studio once and having 30 ideas in my head, but I couldn't document any of them". Despite this, Adam Levine has been able to produce record-breaking songs that have topped the music charts.
6. Karina Smirnoff - Professional Dancer
Karina Smirnoff is a professional ballroom dancer who is known for Dancing with the Stars, winning the thirteenth season with army veteran and soap opera star J.R. Martinez. Smirnoff is also a five-time US National Champion, and Asian Open Champion. She has won the title at the UK Open, os a three-time champion at the US Open, five-time champion at the Dutch Open, five-time US National Professional Champion, and the first woman to ever make the "British Professional Final" with three different partners. She believes that an individual with ADHD can still live a normal, fulfilling life. She asserts that with the right tools, such as medication and organizational strategies, ADHD symptoms can be managed. Whilst having ADHD, Smirnoff is able to keep up with dance rehearsals, teaching choreography, dance shows, and constant travel. She states that her ADHD can be managed so she "can focus on finishing what I start".
7. Lisa Ling - Award-Winning Journalist and Television Presenter
Lisa Ling is best known for hosting The View from 1992 to 2002, which won its first daytime Emmy during her time on the show. She is also the former field correspondent for The Oprah Winfrey Show and contributor to ABC News' Nightline and National Geographic's Explorer. She has reported from dozens of countries, covering an array of socio-political stories about gang rape in the Congo, bride burning in India, the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, and the Mara Salvatrucha gang in Central America. Ling is also the co-author of Mother, Daughter, Sister, Bride: Rituals of Womanhood, and Somewhere Inside: One Sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her Home.
Ling discovered that she had ADHD as an adult while she was reporting on other diagnosed subjects for The ADHD Explosion. She attributes her successful journalism career to her ADHD, claiming that her hyperfocus pushed her to find and stick to what she was truly passionate about. On the Oprah Winfrey Network, Ling states, "I have always had a bit of a difficult time focusing on things that aren't interesting to me ... but when I'm immerse in a story, then I feel like I can laser focus, but if I'm not working, my mind goes in every direction but where it's supposed to go, [and] I've been like that since I was a kid".
8. Scott Kelly - Engineer, NASA Astronaut, and U.S. Navy Captain
Scott Kelly is a veteran of four space flights, commanding the International Space Station (ISS) on three expeditions. He was also a member of the yearlong mission to the ISS. In October 2015, he set the record for the total accumulated number of days spent in space, the longest space mission by an American astronaut. He is the author of four books: Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery (2017), Infinite Wonder: An Astronaut's Photographs from a Year in Space (2018), My Journey to the Stars (2017), and Endurance, Young Readers Edition (2018).
Reflecting back on his childhood, Scott Kelly, who has spent his life with ADHD, states, "I was a terrible student ... always staring out windows or looking at the clock, waiting for class to be over". However, he now recognizes that ADHD poses a huge advantage in space. He finds that he is great at "prioritizing and focusing on the stuff that [is] really, really important". He notices that other astronauts are ultra- Type A overachievers who have to do everything perfect. While these astronauts struggle to let things go, it is easier for him to ignore things that don't matter as much. Thanks to Kelly's persistence, hyperfocus on the bigger picture, and groundbreaking research, humans may soon be able to fly to Mars - a journey that would require three years of flight.
9. Daniel Koh - American Politician
Daniel Koh is an American Democratic politician. He served as the Chief of Staff to the Mayor of Boston from 2014 to 2017, leaving that role to seek election to the United States House of Representatives. In 2019 he was elected to the Andover Board of Selectmen. Koh has two degrees from Harvard, and was named one of Forbes magazine's "30 under 30" at the age of 26. Yet, as a child, he couldn't sit still at a desk, and many teachers deemed him as a lost cause. Through overcoming many obstacles, he now sees ADHD as a blessing, a differentiator, and something that has made him become a more effective manager. He told the Boston Globe, "ADHD has caused me to learn practices and habits that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise, and I see it as a strength."
10. will-i-am - American Rapper and Music Producer
Grammy Award winner will-i-am is the frontman for the pop supergroup The Black Eyed Peas, which has sold more than 33 million albums and 59 million singles worldwide, and has topped record music charts. He has also made a name for himself as a solo artist, producer and activist, working with some of the biggest artists in the world - including Ricky Martin, Britney Spears and Justin Bieber. Most recently, he is a judge and coach on the UK show The Voice, where he helps to nurture the dreams of other artists.
will-i-am believes that ADHD works well for when he needs to be creative, stating, "one thing I learned about ADHD is that it's hard to keep your attention and you can't sit still, and you're always moving and thinking about a whole bunch of things ... But those traits work well for me in studios and in meetings about creative ideas. If you listen to the songs I write, they are the most ADHD songs ever. They have five hooks in one and it all happens in three minutes. I figured out a way of working with it". ADHD has helped will-i-am focus on his passion for music. He says that music brings control to his thoughts. "It's not an escape - it's just order. I'm making order out of a disorder".
There are so many other celebrities, academics, entrepreneurs and sports players with ADHD. It would take us days to name them all! Do you have someone who inspires you who happens to have ADHD? Let us know in the comments below!