ADHD: Disability or Gift?

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The topic of whether ADHD is a disability or a gift has come up many times recently (for me) and at some point it apparently stuck and started marinating in my brain.  Turns out many people have written on this topic and even more disagree, which might have discouraged a more experienced blogger from even bothering to talk about it, but not me.  No, I decided to dive in and put my two cents out into the universe anyway.  Why not?

The first really interesting post I found was from the TotallyADD website.  I love those folks.  Their Tweets crack me up and I really appreciate how they find the humor in things large and small.  I could see how some might not like the site, perhaps there are those who think they make light of ADHD too much (just speculation on my part), but I enjoy the factual info seasoned with a good shot of laughs.  Anyway, oh yes, the post, written by Rick Green, starts out by talking about the difference between a disability (something you can’t do) vs. a handicap (something that’s harder for you to do than others.)  He asked why those were the only two choices and I couldn’t agree more!  There is a third choice: it is a gift.  Frequently, however, it’s both a handicap and a gift.

Another article, this one from ADDitude Magazine online,  covered the legal issues surrounding protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for those diagnosed with ADHD.  The “good” news here is that ADHD is considered a disability under the ADA.  The “bad” news is that it’s pretty hard to qualify for protection, and impossible if you are unwilling to “out” yourself to your boss as an ADDer.  Admittedly this article did not touch on ADHD as a gift, but I thought it important to include the point that it is legally considered a disability.  I know, I know…the lawyer in me tries to get out every once in a while.

Then I found yet another fascinating article entitled, “Putting the Ability Back in “Disability”: Redefining ADHD as a “Gift” by Mia Bolaris-Forget at  Wow!  Talk about an inspiring article!  I lost count about how many times this article evoked a childhood memory for me.  The downside I could imagine for this article is that there are undoubtedly many parents out there who would likely be thinking “it’s not that simple!” to constantly be reframing what they perceive their child is thinking.  However, as an adult who remembers having some of the thoughts described in the article, I would challenge them to try.  Some reframing and asking probing (not accusatory) questions about what the child is actually thinking about right at that moment when it seems they are not paying attention might well yield some surprising answers!  For example, I remember being in health class and while the teacher was discussing the human reproduction process all I kept thinking was, “how in the world do women ever get pregnant?”  or “what are the odds of that actually happening at just the right moment?”  I kept wishing I knew how to do the math to figure that out, but alas, I did not and I also missed some of the details of the process.  I remember finally deciding that considering the overpopulation on Earth, the odds must be better than it seemed like based on the process.  That’s not likely what my teacher thought I was daydreaming about when she called on me to answer a question I hadn’t heard.  Just sayin’…there may be more going on than meets the eye!  The last article had so much in it that I could no doubt do a whole post only on that one (which I may do later!), but for now I know I’m testing your attention span ;-)

So, I will leave you with some parting thoughts based on my own experiences.  First, there is really no doubt that I truly have full-on adult ADD.  Ask anyone who actually knows me lol.  But I still managed to graduate from college and law school.  I passed the Bar Exam on the first try in Florida, which is notoriously one of the most difficult exams in the country, using a self-study course.  Many people thought I was nuts, but I had figured out a study method that worked for me.  I’m not bragging.  I’m making a point that even though at the time I didn’t realize I had ADHD, I knew I learned differently and I found ways to carry out what I needed to by creating a learning style that rarely meshed with what my classmates were doing.  In law school it was either sink or swim, so I came up with some creative methods quickly!  We ADDers do a lot of adapting in almost every area of our lives, don’t we?

While there are many areas of my life where I really struggle as a direct result of ADHD (please do NOT ask me to sort laundry!), there are many other areas where I excel and I directly attribute those to ADHD and it’s gifts of creativity, intuition and innovation.  So do I think ADHD is a disability or a gift?  I believe it is both and it has played a huge role in creating the person I am – sometimes brilliant and other times annoying, usually quirky, rarely on time, you get the idea…just me :-)