ADHD As A Difference In Cognition, Not A Disorder: Stephen Tonti at TEDxCMU

Published 2013-04-10
Stephen is a Senior Directing major at Carnegie Mellon. He is also the current President of Carnegie Mellon's Film Club. He recently completed his Thesis Project within the School of Drama: a production of Mac Wellman's "A Murder of Crows." He is currently working on creating a collective of Film Enthusiasts across Carnegie's Campus as well as other colleges and universities around Pittsburgh. You can find out more about Stephen and his talk on his website: or follow his blog "Caffeine, Nicotine, and ADHD: a guide to maintaining sanity."

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)

All Comments (21)
  • coolbluelights
    "I have a hard time completing things that don't excite me" Story of my life. Hyperfocusing feels like a superpower though. When i'm in the zone I CANNOT fail
  • b4d korean
    Damn, this guy got lucky with concerned teachers and involved parents.
  • Crypto NWO
    the first time I've felt confident about my ADHD...

    thanks for this video
  • Diane E
    I am happy that his parents could afford all of those sports & hobbies for him. This is not the case for many, many youngsters.
  • stargoop
    I was diagnosed at 12 by a school psychologist who chose to speak to my mother instead of explaining what ADHD was to me. My parent was not supportive. When the psychologist told her that my IQ showed that I should be"making As in school with very little effort" instead of just passing with Cs she told me that he had confirmed that it was my fault for not living up to my potential. I didn't even know that it was a disorder or that there were others like me until,at age 50, I saw a commercial for Adderall. After learning that my self esteem was healed and I was able to fix so many things in my life that I had accepted as frustrating character flaws because I learned to question my perceptions instead of my judgment. I try to explain my thought process to others by saying that they see life as a series of individual pictures to be viewed one at a time but I see a poster on which every thing is relevant to eachother at once.
  • Wes Brooks
    "Something has to grab my attention, peak my curiosity, and then I can hyper-focus. This is a good thing and a bad thing. It's a bad thing because I have a hard time completing things that don't excite me." Yep!
  • One word, medication.

    My life was falling apart no matter what I did. I tried everything, sleeping right, therapy, eating right, working out, meditation. You name it I tried it

    Once I got meds it was like a light was flicked on and I could finally bring all those things together.

    ❤️❤️❤️ love all my adhd brothers and sisters.
  • Elizabeth Nicole
    Just got diagnosed with ADHD at 26 and I feel like my entire life makes sense now! I’m on a journey now to harness it and use it towards good. I’m happy to be apart of this groups of awesome people!
  • "I can read a 500-page novel that I love much faster than a one page article I don't care for" Damn, that's my entire life. I just got diagnosed a couple days ago haha

    Edit: 3 years later and it turns out I can read fine when I have ADHD meds. I have a master's degree now lmao
  • Adam Wonders
    I agree with the majority of what he's saying, apart from the sweeping "stop giving meds to kids who can't handle them" statement. Medication absolutely does need to be closely monitored, different options trialled, side effects managed, etc. He's right about that. But there are academics and researchers who have dedicated their entire careers to the intricate understanding and development of the pharmacology of these meds; You cannot simply say "nah, they're no good" and dismiss decades of clinical trials. They're not a solution for everyone, they're not a 'miracle cure', and some of them do have difficult side effects; but they're a tool in an arsenal. Let me tell you, as someone who has ADHD and doesn't like medication either... I'm still very thankful some type of solution exists, rather than nothing.
  • Polly Lisa Bennett
    I really like this talk except for your implicit judgement against medication for young people. This is one of the most researched areas of medicine. And while I totally agree we need to approach ADHD more holistically. That doesn't mean you are medically trained enough to rule out meds altogether for young people. There are plenty of ADHD adults who still thank their parents and doctors for prescribing them medicine when they were young.
  • -Visii-
    Just because you have a short attention span and you are this free spirited creative person doesn't mean you understand what the worst of this can be like. Having a bunch of "skills" isn't so great anymore when you have hundreds of unfinished projects.

    You can clearly see in the comment section those who actually have this problem. Yeah, there are some cool and admittedly glorified perks to ADHD but this shit is not fun when you are an adult and can't get your life under control.
  • Vera W.
    I would love to hear this story from the view of "Adam". I was diagnosed with ADHD quite late in life although I had my suspicions for a while. As a result it feels like a burden more often than not.. but when I look at this TED talk I see someone who has made ADHD work for him since very early in life, someone with awesome self-confidence. I would love to see the story of someone who has struggled with the effects of ADHD for a time and found a way to turn it around.
  • LibiB26
    I take Concerta and my life is better for it. When I was younger I did feel like a different person on my medication, like I was less social and quieter. But I also understood the overwhelming positives of taking it. Before the medication, I couldn’t focus enough to even learn how to read, but afterwards, I fell in love with reading and it allowed me to escape to new worlds and places. Yes, it sucks to feel like apart of who you are needs to be “fixed”. But when I am not on my medication, I feel worse because no matter how hard I try, I cannot focus and get anything done. Time passes by and my to do list has not changed. It is frustrating to feel like your mind is working against you. Also on my medication it helps with my emotional regulation, so I wouldn’t act out impulsively. I feel in control and at ease when I am on my medication. I am empowered when I can do both things I love and get things done like ironing and dishes. Everyone has different experiences with side effects, so I am only speaking for myself. For myself, I want to accept who I am with ADHD, but also not let that stand in my way from managing my life. It can be hard to decipher what parts of my personality are my ADHD and what part is me. I also need to reassure myself that no matter what struggles, I can make the most of my life. But I think that medication plays an important part in that equation. I don’t want to spend most of my day applying strategies to force my brain to focus (when it is impossible), just so I don’t take medication. For me, that is like not wearing my glasses, but if I squint enough and sit close to the board in class, I can make sense of enough through the blur that I can get by. Also, medication is only part of your treatment, you need to have regular therapy, organizational strategies, exercise, to do lists and much more. So to close out this rant, I hope that people who take medication will follow my lead and not feel ashamed for it; and people who decide not to will not judge others who do. When I take medication, it’s like the fog has lifted and I can see clearly, so don’t shame people into living in the fog, just to please the fear and judgement of others. Thanks you for reading all this, it means a lot.
  • TheRealDeal
    I found out I had add over the summer, and today was my first time learning on my medication. I got spanish verb conjugations, something i've been struggling with for 2 years, almost instantaneously! I swear this is the happiest day of my life! :D
    (im 13)
  • Linda Chisholm
    I was diagnosed with ADD when i was 7 or 8, then again when I was 37 and wanted to take a massage therapy college course that I was not accepted into because of my ADHD . I am now 59 and have worked at over 400 places, have 5 different degrees in different subjects, none of which I worked. Happy to hear there are so many like me.
  • T J
    I have been labeled, “jack of all trades and master of none”
  • Swindler
    Man. Must be nice to have had such financially capable parents as to support so many momentary obsessions. I remember trying to do that, and my parents just got tired of me tossing new hobbies and activities aside.
  • Master
    I’m about to go get diagnosed for adhd. I’ve always known I’ve had focus problems, and many others, such as spacing out, being crazy hyperactive, excessive talking, etc. Only lately I did some further research and realized that every little problem I’ve gotten scolded for growing up was a symptom of adhd. Watching videos like this makes me feel understood. I’m going to a specialist this week, and I’m worried maybe she might not diagnose me or something like that. Idk where to reach out for help.