ADHD is Not a Gift

“Now let’s be clear, this is a very serious disorder. This is not some trivial little fly-by-night disorder.

Also, to emphasize something which I don’t think is emphasized enough: ADHD is no gift. There is no evidence in any research on any of hundreds of measures that we have taken that show that ADHD predisposes to anything positive in human life. Now let’s be clear, ADHD is but a small set of hundreds of psychological abilities that people will have, and many people may be gifted and talented in various aspects of these other human abilities, but never attribute that giftedness or that success to ADHD itself.

There is a profound tendency in the US right now for advocates to roll everything about a patient under the tent of their ADHD, and they use it to account for everything. So that Michael Phelps won eight gold medal Olympics because of his ADHD; and [David Neeleman] the owner of Jet Blue, [is] a successful entrepreneur running an airline because of his ADHD; and Howie Mandell on “Deal or No Deal” is a successful comic and gameshow host because of his ADHD; and Ty Pennington on extreme home makeover is very successful at destroying and rebuilding houses for other charitable purposes because of his ADHD.

None of this is true at all. These people are successful because they have other attributes in which they are gifted, but in no way does ADHD predispose to any of the things that I have mentioned. If so, we would have seen it.

So I want people to understand that while people may be gifted and talented and successful in spite of their ADHD, it is not because of their ADHD. The ADHD itself may in fact make you less effective than with other people who have equally talented areas in those human abilities. We don’t know, nobody has done that comparison.

But it’s going to be very hard for society to take you all seriously if you continue to trumpet this disorder as a gift. There is no way that we can go to Ottawa and walk the halls of parliament, arguing for accomodations, entitlements, funding of ADHD medications on the one hand, while rah-rah cheering ADHD as this wonderful giftedness that we have and you don’t [on the other]. They are antithetical to each other, and it doesn’t work. And it’s a lie.

So let’s stop deceiving people about this. This is a real disorder, it’s a very serious disorder, but it doesn’t mean you may not be talented in many other areas of life and that you can use those areas of talent to compensate for the disadvantages that ADHD may be producing. But success is not attributable to ADHD, not in any of the hundreds of studies that have been done to date. So I’m asking for clarification on this issue. I’m not saying people can’t succeed with this disorder, but it won’t be their ADHD that caused that.”

Dr. Russell Barkley
CADDAC Conference: ADHD, All in the Family
May 30th 2009,
Toronto, Canada.