Is ADHD ever a "gift?" While some ADHD "specialists" and anti-medical treatment folk like to say that, most experts disagree.

Today there was an excellent article in the New york Times in which Dr. Russell Barkley, one of the leading researches and consultant/practitioners in ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) answered questions from readers. The perennial question about ADHD (sometimes called ADD) came up: "Is there a time ADHD is considered beneficial or a gift?"

Well the answer is no for many reasons, however, we are often taken down a path that is misleading at best and destructive and harmful at worse by those who like to say "ADHD is a gift." This is reflective of a group of individuals who somehow think "diagnosis" in and of itself is harmful - that having your child or yourself diagnosed with ADHD will cause more harm than ADHD causes (got that?) and that first and foremost we need to avoid "labeling." This thinking leads parents to avoiding a diagnosis, it leads to children failing year after year in school because no one diagnoses or treats this very treatable disorder because they know their child's problems and failures are really "an issue of people not appreciating his/her gifts or special personality," and the avoidance of simple and effective cognitive behaviour therapy, psycho-education (which is simply impossible if we can't say "ADHD")and the avoidance of medications that has been show in study after study to be effective.

Often you will hear, "I don't want to step on his or her creativity" or "I don't want to change his personality." But it's not creativity or personality that is making this child struggle at school. It's a dysfunction of the executive parts of the brain, an inability of the child (or adult) to in reality make choices rather than being pushed into them.

Here is the real danger of this "gift" belief. Often, after years of struggle and frustration, an individual with ADHD sees a medical doctor and considers treatment. But at the last minute they say, no. The reason- the symptoms that are problematic are considered a "gift" or "special ability" by him or her, and he's been told that for years. Taking medication, or getting behavioural treatment, is going to make the "specialness" go away.

This is confused thinking.

People with ADHD report that they can really be "in the zone" at certain points, when they are able to think fast, clear and creatively. But this often varies from day to day, and varies from task to task. If it didn't, they never would have been concerned about ADHD/ADD in the first place. When doing something of interest, something they enjoy or is reinforcing, they are able to remain focused, concentrate and get down to work. It is when situations becoming demanding, are anxiety producing or are not preferred that problems quickly become apparent. Dr. Barkley makes a distinction between accepting your ADHD and pretending it's some sort of gift that makes you different in a positive way. As he says, "There is NO EVIDENCE that ADHD is a gift or conveys any advantages beyond what other people in the general population might have. People are individuals, like anyone else, and may have been blessed with particular talents that are superior to levels seen in most people." But these talents and abilities have nothing at all to do with ADHD. "they would have had them anyway." There is no research that certain jobs or careers are better for those with ADHD/ADD. There are careers that may be more ADHD "friendly." But that means that those jobs or careers don't have overwhelming requirements that fly in the face of ADHD.

One of the things we try to do in any good assessment is make you aware of your individual strengths and weaknesses, this includes your individual neurological strengths and weaknesses. Knowing those will help you understand what situations might be good for you, and what situations might pose a problem, as well as help you understand what strengths you have which you can use to bolster any deficits ADHD may have produced. Honestly, this is no different than what everyone does in life. What am I good at? What am I not good at? What do I want to do? And how can I fit all this together. The first step though is understand and accepting that you have ADHD.

Here's what Dr. Barkley says (click here for the entire article in the New York Times):


The ADHD blog is not offered as medical advice or as a means of diagnosing or treating ADHD or any other disorder. My recommendations: Don't go on-line and take an ADHD "test." The diagnosis of ADHD is complex and involves not just looking for symptoms of ADHD, which is all that those “tests” do, but also involves ruling out other disorders that might look just like ADHD. Often individuals who think they have ADHD have other disorders, and may have co-morbid disorders such as depression, anxiety or OCD. A simple check off sheet of “symptoms” doesn’t differentiate these. So avoid these on-line "tests" which are nothing more than a collection of symptoms. You need to see a licensed or registered professional for a real diagnosis. Medical doctors can diagnose ADHD, but the diagnosis is complex and often they will make a referral to a Registered Psychologist for a full understanding of a patient’s symptoms. You can obtain a referral for a psychologist with expertise in ADHD from the British Columbia Psychological Association (BCPA).

I also recommend against programs that seem just to easy. Vancouver has many "ADHD cure" programs, quick fixes involving everything from neurofeedback to diet. There is very little evidence for most of these programs. I suggest you look up any of these ideas on the "Quack watch"website or simply by adding the word "skeptic" to any google or other web search you do.

In my practice I offer Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) assessment and treatment services for individuals, couples, families, children and adolescents in the Burnaby, Vancouver, Coquitlam, Port Moody, New Westminster and Maple Ridge areas of the lower mainland. This includes neuro-developmental assessments, psycho-education, cognitive rehabilitation for problems with memory and concentration and cognitive behaviour therapy. I also provide diagnostic assessments for autism and Asperger's Disorder in my Burnaby office.

My web page lists a number of resources you can make use of yourself in dealing with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Please visit it at or one of my other sites at either Psychology Today, AAMFT, PSYRIS or my professional site. Please feel free to call if you have questions about ADHD or other cognitive issues.

Dr. Jim Roche
Registered Psychologist, British Columbia 01610