Is ADHD a Gift or a Disability? Can It Be Both?
Is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) a gift or a disability? There is much debate about this topic. People feel very strongly about this ADHD issue, perhaps because the question is tied to our identity. In my opinion, there is no easy answer, and it very much depends on the circumstances.
Why Is It Hard to Know If ADHD Is a Gift or a Disability?
ADHD Comes in Many Shapes and Sizes
Whether ADHD is a gift or a disability is difficult to answer because ADHD manifests in a wide variety of ways.1 On a diagnostic level, ADHD presents in three primary ways: hyperactive, inattentive, or both.2 This is why some people with ADHD are extremely busy (sometimes to the extent of burnout), while others are labeled “lazy” or laid-back. ADHDers can be anxious extroverts, melancholy introverts, thrill-seekers, or homebodies. They can be seen in all sorts of careers, from construction work to law.
Whether ADHD is a gift or a disability depends on the severity of the ADHD symptoms and how the person experiences his or her symptoms. It also depends on opportunities and environment. Someone with ADHD who thrives in school will have a very different experience than an ADHDer who finds school to be unbearably boring. One theory suggests that people with ADHD thrive in a world of hunters but struggle in an environment made for farmers.3 Our “distractibility” can be valuable alertness in the right scenario.
ADHD as a Gift Versus a Disability
Calling ADHD a gift rather than a disability can be empowering, but it sometimes silences those who genuinely struggle with their symptoms. When people tell me that ADHD is a matter of perspective or even an advantage, I feel guilty for not being more successful and content and am less likely to treat my symptoms. Hyperfocus may benefit an obsessive musician, but it does not help me when I search the Internet for hours when I should be paying my bills. In addition, there are many things I want to accomplish and do that my attention span makes difficult.
Labeling ADHD a “disability” can be very validating, and it carries important legal protections. However, the term has a stigma in our society and can make one feel disheartened and ashamed. It does not account for the limited perspective cultures have of those who are different. Those with ADHD are often passionate and creative, and their ability to see unusual connections can indeed be a strength.
In conclusion, I believe that we should embrace whatever terms work for us while remaining sensitive to others’ experiences. In the video below, I talk about my current views about whether my ADHD is a gift. Thank you for reading, and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
- How to ADHD, "This is What It's Really Like to Have ADHD." YouTube, Nov. 2017.
- Williams, P. et al., "ADD vs. ADHD: Explaining the Three Types of Attention Deficit Disorder." ADDitude, May 2019.
- Perrault, S., "Hunters In a Farmers’ World." ADDitude, Oct. 2018.
Matteson, N. (2019, May 29). Is ADHD a Gift or a Disability? Can It Be Both?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 25 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/livingwithadultadhd/2019/5/is-adhd-a-gift-or-a-disability-can-it-be-both