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Blessing or Curse: Can ADHD Be Both?

Having worked their way into the open and everyday conversations and perspectives of education over the last couple of decades, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by the latest wrinkle in the ADD and ADHD world of definition and treatment. We’ve certainly known that students with ADD/ADHD are more than capable of harnessing their talents and abilities; and, many are supremely talented.

The latest wave of ADD/ADHD dialog now takes the disorder beyond strategy and treatment- repackaging the diagnosis into a positive trait that some argue is a blessing. I’m left scratching my head. Why define, diagnose, and treat ADD/ADHD if it’s such a valuable tool/perspective?

Framed by Michael Phelps, his ADHD status, and his unbelievable Olympic performance, Tara Parker-Pope highlights both sides of issue in her New York Times article, “A New Face for A.D.H.D., and a Debate.

The two perspectives (as told to Ms. Parker-Pope):

“It’s not an unmitigated blessing, but neither is it an unmitigated curse, which is usually the way it’s presented,” said Dr. Hallowell, who has the disorder himself. “I have been treating this condition for 25 years and I know that if you manage it right, this apparent deficit can become an asset. I think of it as a trait and not a disability.”

From the other side,

“This reframing A.D.H.D. as a gift, personally I don’t think it’s helpful,” said Natalie Knochenhauer, founder of A.D.H.D. Aware, an advocacy group in Doylestown, Pa. “You can’t have a disability that needs to be accommodated in the classroom, and also have this special gift. There are a lot of people out there — not only do their kids not have gifts, but their kids are really struggling.”

Ms. Knochenhauer, who has four children with the disorder, says they too were inspired by the astonishing performance of Mr. Phelps in Beijing. But she added, “I would argue that Michael Phelps is a great swimmer with A.D.H.D., but he’s not a great swimmer because he has A.D.H.D.”

Brian Fisher

A product of both private and public education, Brian Fisher served as a teacher, coach, dorm parent, and administrator at three different boarding schools. Brian also fills the role of Director of Development at Wolfeboro, The Summer Boarding School, in NH along with being a partner at AdmissionsQuest.

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