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Neuro Diversity.

Moving away from the research surrounding musicians and mental health I would now like to explore the topic of neurodivergence (ND). It’s a popular and complex topic in terms of social contagion and the amplified glory of social media.

As musicians I lightly believe that we are all on the continuum somewhere, (maybe we all are) who knows? But, without a doubt being ND does impact our mental health especially in a volatile and stimulating environment like the music industry. Neuro-diversity is an umbrella term capturing the different variations in our personal brain structures and how we understand, make sense and behave in the world and with others. ND can include areas such as Autism, ADHD, Tourette's, Dyslexia and a range of other factors.

In the big wide world, it is estimated that 1 in 7 (15%) people are neurodivergent, processing information and behaviour differently to population norms. Unsurprisingly, this figure is also thought to be significantly higher in the music industry population where musicians are often more emotionally sensitive, creative and placed under greater stress. Having immersed myself in the psychology of thousands of musicians (alongside being one) I do feel we are more likely to be on this spectrum.

The two most prevalent ND areas that I come across as a musician and clinician are ADHD and Autism. In this first blog I will look at ADHD. At times I do often wonder how these ND overlap with developmental experience and what we have lived through. This debate is for another day but walking a middle ground between nurture and nature seems like a healthy compromise in the divided world we live in right? I think we if buy fully into either nature or nurture we could be missing out on understanding a whole chunk of our personal experience.


ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts individuals of all ages, influencing different aspects of life, including academic, social, and occupational functioning. One reason ADHD is described as a disorder is due to the harm it causes. In some ways the disorder component is described as the environment ‘kicking back’ against our actions.

This ‘harm’ can manifest relationship struggle, drug use, impunctuality and many many more factors. As ever, this ‘disordered’ nature of the condition does sound a little pathological but it wasn’t me that made the rules up here! 

Despite it being listed as a disorder I prefer to think about ADHD as a set of ‘traits’.

These traits are neither good or bad, this ‘difference’ can both help and hinder but it can cause particular problems, especially in the music industry. Common symptoms in people with ADHD include challenges in maintaining attention, impulsive behaviour, and hyperactivity. ADHD is also associated with comorbidity of other mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and substance use.

One of my own particular struggles in the ADHD arena manifests as a difficulty in getting off the carousel of anything I am currently engaged in. This also manifests as a struggle to get on the carousel of anything I have no interest in! It can make for the most painful of experiences if we feel no affiliation to what we are presented with. Additionally, It can also make it the most painful of experiences if we are pulled out of something we are deeply engaged with (eg, focusing on how a guitar pick feels as it plucks a string at different angles for 5 hours!, analysing the exact angle and speed a drum stick bounces from a snare drum – Yes this sounds like madness…but…I’ve done it!).

In adults, ADHD can also manifest as difficulties in managing time, forgetfulness, restlessness, and struggles with completing tasks or sustaining focus. People with ADHD can struggle if their established routines are disrupted. On the other end of this continuum (as just mentioned) it is the difficulty in establishing a routine. These difficulties can be helped somewhat by using timetables, structuring or implementing measures to physicalise time, using, ‘to do’ lists and stopwatches. These strategies may help to prevent emotional overwhelm and frustration. Without a doubt, a timer and a metronome have been my greatest ally in this odd ADHD world.

In next week’s blog I will be writing more being a musician, ADHD and some super skills it gives us.


Adam Ficek hosts a monthly show 'Tonic Music' on Totally Wired Radio, where he talks to various guests about music and mental health. You can listen again to any of the previous show on the Tonic Music Mixcloud page.


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