Can ADHD Be a Gift?
The Challenges of ADHD continued...
Abramowitz says she sees the value in building on whatever special strengths a child with ADHD may have.
"ADHD kids have a lot of gifts and a lot of good things about them," says Elza Vasconcellos, MD, of the WeMind Institute in Miami. Vasconcellos treats children with ADHD and is the mother of a child with the condition. "Many are very artistic with music, with art. They are talkative, able to multitask, and social. When I talk to parents, I try to encourage those gifts."
On the other hand, Vasconcellos says, ADHD often makes it hard for children to draw from their strengths. For example, she says, while many tend to be social, “some are so impulsive other kids have trouble being around them." And when it comes to creativity, “Some of these children cannot even focus long enough to draw a straight line," she says.
Behavioral-developmental pediatrician Lawrence Diller, MD, author of Remembering Ritalin, sees ADHD "more as personality- and temperament-based rather than a mental disorder or a chemical imbalance."
"Impulsivity can be seen as spontaneity, and hyperactivity could be vitality -- but, there is a big 'but,'" he says. “Once you go beyond the mild, ADHD is the flip side of something positive. The children's struggles with family, schools, and peers diminish the positiveness of it."
Honos-Webb doesn't make this distinction. Her view is that ADHD is not something a child has, but a set of behaviors a child does. By working to understand why their child behaves in those ways, she says parents can find ways to motivate the child to change those behaviors.
"Many parents actually buy into the idea their child cannot succeed, and many more are fearful their children will fail," she says. "If they find a child's gifts, it is like a jet stream. They get to where they want to go with less pushing." Above all, Honos-Webb says: "The question parents should ask is, 'What is right with my child?'
The Right Treatment
Honos-Webb doesn’t see medication as the treatment to start with, but agrees that it helps many children respond to behavioral therapy. "The first thing I recommend is a child and family get 12 sessions of psychotherapy first before they even get evaluation for diagnosis, and certainly before trying medication," she says.