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ADHD in the Zombie Apocalypse

By: Jon Thomas, EdD, and Pamela Barton

If you spend much time around millennials, I’m sure you’ve heard about the “Zombie Apocalypse.” Adequate preparations, proper weapons, ways to evade and eliminate zombies, are all prevalent in the vernacular of these folks.

But seriously, do they actually believe in the possibility of zombies? Highly doubtful. Have they been watching too many zombie movies? Certainly. Might it be more than a cultural fad? Very likely. If so, how can we better understand this social phenomenon?

First, note that the “zombie apocalypse” exists in a broader and growing context of dystoptian themes in the culture of books, movies, and TV shows. Examples include Divergence, The Walking Dead, Hunger Games, World War Z, Maze Runner, and Enders Game. Next, consider how popular culture often provides for expression of underlying or collective unconscious thought and emotion—for example, the way war themes became popular in books and movies at the onset of the first Gulf War, or nuclear holocaust during the cold war. Considered in this fashion, the Zombie Apocalypse may be a tag for some actual and reality-based fears.

A brief look into our future points to the possibility of some significantly disturbing challenges coming at us. Trending population growth and globalization, as well as global climate change, threaten to create dire consequences. These emerging conditions will give rise to new diseases and the spreading of disease, shortages of healthy sustainable food, water, and energy, and numerous other crises we haven’t even considered.

These new crises will test our old ways of problem-solving and require us to redefine the strained and failing systems that are basic to civilization. In an article “Learning By Doing”, in the November 2014 edition of WIRED magazine, Harvard Professor David Edwards suggests these crises will lead us to redefine law, engineering, architectural methods, medicine, and other fields, and will require minds more adept at learning from failure and discovery.

Might the Zombie Apocalypse be a metaphorical manifestation for the very reasonable fears associated with these upcoming crises?

If you can accept that the “Zombie Apocalypse” metaphorically stems from the fear associated with the upcoming crises, what might these aforementioned dystopian movies and books suggest about solutions to the problems? Here’s a clue. Note what the heroes, the problem-solvers, and mainstays of these story lines have in common. They are the creative, high energy, out-of-the-box thinkers, who impulsively act on intuition. They are the uneasy-in-the-harness challengers of the status quo who tend to spring into action in response to the high stimulation and novelty of crisis.

Sounds like what Edwards’ calls “…minds more adept at learning from failure and discovery.”

Sounds like ADHD to me.

So shouldn’t we be encouraging the unique problem-solving abilities of people whose approach to life has heretofore been labeled a disorder? They have a valuable skill set that will help address society’s ever accelerating challenges when they learn to harness this restless energy.

If this line of logic sounds less-than-preposterous, shouldn’t we be paying attention to how well we are tending the minds of these potential problem-solvers?

As the title of Edwards’ article implies “American Schools Are Training Kids for a World That Doesn’t Exist”, maybe we’re not doing so well. He further states, “Failing to create a new way of learning adapted to contemporary circumstances might be a national disaster.”

And specific to the Zombie Apocalypse ADHD hero metaphor, we’re not doing so well here either. When we consider data that suggests as many as 40% of college students who have ADHD fail in their first semester, and that the majority of those 40% never complete college, it’s easy to appreciate the magnitude of this missed opportunity.

However, there is a positive aspect of this problem according to Edwards’ article. “The good news is, some people are working on it. Against this arresting background, an exciting new kind of learning is taking place in America.”

Our hope lies in innovations that are on the horizon, providing new approaches to learning. In part two of this article we will take a closer look at some of these approaches.

Our future portends inevitable, looming crises. We need to begin now to better support and prepare minds that are especially suited to solving the new paradigms of these challenges. Or better said in the genre of millennials,

“When the Zombie Apocalypse comes,
I want the ADHD faction watching my back.”

We are a uniquely integrated program of College Readiness & Success Training, Academic Coaching, Mental Health and Career Counseling for high school and college Students with ADHD.