Characterizing Creative Thinking and Creative Achievements in Relation to Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder

Front Psychiatry. 2022 Jul 1:13:909202. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2022.909202. eCollection 2022.


Previous research on ADHD and ASD has mainly focused on the deficits associated with these conditions, but there is also evidence for strengths. Unfortunately, our understanding of potential strengths in neurodevelopmental conditions is limited. One particular strength, creativity, has been associated with both ADHD and ASD. However, the distinct presentations of both conditions beg the question whether ADHD and ASD associate with the same or different aspects of creativity. Therefore, the current study investigated the links between ADHD and ASD symptoms, creative thinking abilities, and creative achievements. To investigate the spectrum of ADHD and ASD symptoms, self-reported ADHD and ASD symptoms, convergent (Remote Associations Test) and divergent thinking (Alternative Uses Task) and creative achievements (Creative Achievement Questionnaire) were assessed in a self-reportedly healthy sample of adults (n = 470). We performed correlation analysis to investigate the relation between ADHD/ASD symptoms and creativity measures. In a second phase of analysis, data from an adult ADHD case-control study (n = 151) were added to investigate the association between ADHD symptoms and divergent thinking in individuals with and without a diagnosis of ADHD. Our analysis revealed that having more ADHD symptoms in the general population was associated with higher scores on all the outcome measures for divergent thinking (fluency, flexibility, and originality), but not for convergent thinking. Individuals with an ADHD diagnosis in the case-control sample also scored higher on measures of divergent thinking. Combining data of the population based and case-control studies showed that ADHD symptoms predict divergent thinking up to a certain level of symptoms. No significant associations were found between the total number of ASD symptoms and any of the creativity measures. However, explorative analyses showed interesting links between the ASD subdomains of problems with imagination and symptoms that relate to social difficulties. Our findings showed a link between ADHD symptoms and divergent thinking abilities that plateaus in the clinical spectrum of symptoms. For ASD symptoms, no relation was found with creativity measures. Increasing the knowledge about positive phenotypes associated with neurodevelopmental conditions and their symptom dimensions might aid psychoeducation, decrease stigmatization and improve quality of life of individuals living with such conditions.

Keywords: ADHD; ASD; Creative Achievement Questionnaire (CAQ); convergent thinking; creativity; divergent thinking; neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs).