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ADHD in Children Health Center

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Can ADHD Be a Gift?

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD

Kids with ADHD have "gifts" -- and by helping them develop these gifts, parents can give their children more control over problem behaviors, a child psychologist argues in her popular book.

In The Gift of ADHD, child psychologist Lara Honos-Webb, PhD, tells parents not to focus on words like "deficit" and "disorder" in their children's ADHD diagnosis.

"I tell parents it is a brain difference, not a brain disorder," Honos-Webb says. "Children's sense of identity is not yet formed at the time of ADHD diagnosis. Reframing the disorder as a gift helps them define themselves by what is working, not by what isn't working."

Kids with ADHD often have trouble in school. They can’t sit still, and they have trouble focusing their attention on a single task. They may have outbursts of emotion.

Despite their challenges, Honos-Webb says, children with ADHD tend to also have:

  • Creativity
  • Exuberance
  • Emotional expressiveness
  • Interpersonal intuition
  • A special relationship with nature
  • Leadership

It's more than just a way of looking at ADHD, she says. It's a treatment strategy that motivates ADHD kids and improves their self-esteem.

"Just by finding and focusing on gifts, people change in positive, noticeable ways," Honos-Webb says. "You build on strengths and motivation; you give them the confidence to try harder. And the more they try, the more they can change their brains."

The Challenges of ADHD

Emory University psychologist Ann Abramowitz, PhD, doesn't see ADHD as a gift. She says the very diagnosis means a child is having problems. "If a child has ADHD symptoms but is not impaired, we don't diagnose ADHD.”

Abramowitz, an ADHD and special education expert, directed Emory's Center for Learning and Attention Deficit Disorders from 1989 to 2001.

Abramowitz and Honos-Webb agree that ADHD is often carelessly diagnosed by primary care doctors under pressure from frustrated teachers and distraught parents. Since there's no single test for ADHD, getting the right evaluation takes time, expertise, and judgment. Other things that might affect a child's behavior, such as a disruptive family situation or an unmet medical need, need to be ruled out.

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