Can ADHD or autism be a gift? Yes! It's in the way we look at it

If you have a positive outlook, your little one will too. Don't see their disorder as a challenge, consider it a gift.
If you have a positive outlook, your little one will too. Don't see their disorder as a challenge, consider it a gift.

With the intention of doing research for a film, Helena Bonham Carter and husband Tim Burton sat down to watch a documentary. The topic: autism.

While watching the film he said to her that, as a child, that’s how he felt, and she too admitted she had an “a-ha moment”, noticing many similarities between her husband and those on the spectrum they were watching on screen.

“Autistic people have applications and dedication. You can say something to Tim when he’s working and he doesn’t hear you,” she says. “That quality makes him a fantastic father, he has an amazing sense of humour and imagination. He sees things other people don’t see.”

Well, he did bring to life the fantasy world of Wonderland in 2010, he brought us the shady ghost Beetlejuice and gave Johnny Depp scissors for hands in Edward Scissorhands. So can the characteristics of those on the autism spectrum or with ADHD be seen as gifts rather than problems? 

The symptoms vs the gifts

We’ve written before that, yes, being on the autism spectrum or having ADHD is no joke – parents need to be aware of any disorders their children have and intervene as far as possible.

Psychologist Meadow Schroeder elaborates, “Undiagnosed ADHD has long-term consequences, including an increased likelihood of engaging in risky behaviours – such as unprotected sex and substance use – as well as academic underachievement and low self-esteem. Perhaps most alarmingly, girls who struggle with ADHD for a long period of time can suffer from mental health problems.”

But all things considered, we can look at austim or ADHD, specifically, in a different light if we wanted to. Psychologist and founder and director of Ashley Children’s Psychology Center, Susan Ashley, explains in her book The ADD & ADHD Answer Book: Professional Answers to 275 of the Top Questions Parents Ask: “It’s all in how you look at it. The more you and your child can view the symptoms in a positive way, the less negative impact the disorder will have.”

She elaborates by putting a “symptom” of ADHD alongside another column that reads “gift” to compare what we might see as a negative trait as a positive attribute, if you look at it the right way:

“Your child’s qualities and his day-to-day life actually sound rather pleasant if you view your child’s symptoms as a gift,” she says.

The power of positive thinking

We’re always told to put positive thoughts out into the universe. But we also always associate those words with nonconformist, carefree, flower power people. But here’s tried-and-tested proof of the theory. 

A popular study done some 30 years ago, which still constantly comes up even in today’s research, is that of Michael F. Scheier and Charles S. Carver titled Optimism, Coping and Health: Assessment and Implications of Generalized Outcome Expectancies. The study looked at 79 male and 62 female undergraduates and asked them to complete 3 questionnaires 4 weeks before the end of their semester and again on the last day of class. In the questionnaire they were asked to measure their optimism, their private self-consciousness, and to look at a 39-item physical symptom checklist. 

The study concluded that those who initially considered themselves optimistic were also less likely to be bothered by the physical ailments they might have been experiencing than those who reported they were less optimistic. 

And consider this: if you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, while the rain is pouring down, only to realise you forgot to stock up on coffee, you’re possibly going to feel upset. But if you decide the entire day is a waste because of it, everything that happens from when you wake up until you turn in is going to seem like a disaster – regardless of whether or not you managed to get coffee at the store down the road. It really is all in the way you look at it.

In the following video, My 10 Favourite Things About Having ADHD, Jessica from How to ADHD explains, "ADHD is not a failed version of normal. Our brains just work differently. And with those differences come a lot of strengths."

She lists enthusiasm, willingness to take risks, resilience, sense of humour, generosity, creativity, hyperfocus, and being forgiving and full of surprises as some of the great things about her and others with ADHD. Do watch this great video: 

So perhaps we should consider that our children aren’t impulsive, they just live fully in the moment; they aren’t pushy, they just do what it takes to get things done; and they don’t have a distorted understanding of reality, only a unique view of the world.

Does your child have ADHD? Is he or she on the spectrum? Do you think these conditions can be considered a gift? Tell us by emailing and we may publish your stories and letters on the site.

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