Is ADHD a Disability?

by CJ McDaniel // July 14  

ADHD, from a clinical standpoint, is considered a disability. It is categorized as both a learning and functional disability. It affects one’s ability to concentrate, to get tasks done on time, to follow through, to be organized, and much more.  

In the educational environment, ADHD is also seen as a disability because students who have ADHD have difficulty with school work, have trouble focusing in class, and have a hard time completing assignments. However, if you took a look at the full range of Characteristics of ADHD you will begin to question if, indeed, it is a disability.

A disability is something that prevents you from doing something that you want to do.  In that sense, there are certainly many characteristics of ADHD that can be viewed as disabling. However, there are equally many characteristics that people labeled with ADHD have that enable them to do many other things.

You can read the Characteristic of ADHD article to find out what those traits are, and how one can see this discussion from two different perspectives. There are certain characteristics that can be seen as disabilities, and other characteristics that can be seen as abilities. There is nothing being said here that is really beyond common sense. We all have strengths and we all have weaknesses.  

The question “is ADHD a disability?” is really more a matter of the perspective of the individual that has been labeled with ADHD. If one only focuses on the negative aspects, and sees all the things that one can’t do, then it becomes disabling.

However, if you see it from the positive characteristic standpoint, and one focuses on what they can do, then it could be considered “an ability”. In fact, it is possible that it can be considered both.

The question is really when to know the difference. When is ADHD a disability?  Can “an ability” become disabling to someone if they do not know how to use it properly?  

Suppose an individual has a heighten sense of hearing that allows them to hear more acutely. This trait, without any training to control this ability, can be distracting as certain sounds will become overwhelming and prevent one from focusing properly. This, then, clearly becomes a disability; because one has not learned how to use the gifts they have been given.

In the case of ADHD, it is a heighten sensitivity to stimulus on all accounts. The training to master this hypersensitivity can lead one to unprecedented levels of focus and creativity. Likewise, the lack of training can lead to years of suffering as the individual becomes overwhelmed mentally, physically, and emotionally.  

So, when one studies and learns how to use the gifts; then ADHD is no longer a disability, but rather an “ability”. In education, this means finding the learning style or environment that is best suited to the student. In the workplace this means finding the job or career that is best suited to the talents of the individual.

Internal Debate or Embracing and Believing in Yourself

The ability versus disability discussion is very much the internal dialogue of the person labeled with ADHD. We all have magic within us to achieve things that are beyond our imagination, to succeed in ways that we may not think possible, and to change things in this world for the better. However, it is my experience that embracing who you are is more than just learning how to use your talents.  

You can study meditation and mind-body practices all day long, every day, for the next 20 years and not learn how to use them if you don’t understand this one very important thing. This is something I realized from my own years of suffering with ADHD, on medication, and in and out of hospitals until I finally broke through. I have been completely symptom and medication free for over 22 years and from that journey here is the most important thing I can share with you.

You have to believe in yourself!  You have to believe in you, in who you are, in the greatness that lives within you, and in the gifts that you’re going to share with this world. Without belief in yourself, without thinking that it’s possible for you, without you being your own best friend, without you giving yourself positive self talk every day, and without you loving yourself; then  ADHD will always be a  disability.  

When we ask ourselves “is ADHD a disability?”, It really isn’t the ADHD that is disabling us, but our own negative self talk!  It is our own disbelief in ourselves that prevents us from reaching our potential. Our disbelief that is actually still a form of believing. It is the belief in the “I can’t”. What I found in my journey is that whatever you believe most strongly about yourself is what you will manifest in your life.   

So, whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right! You’ll create and live whatever it is that you believe deep down inside about who you actually are and what you are capable of. If you believe that ADHD is a disability then the label and your experiences will disable you, but if you believe differently, then something quite extraordinary can happen.

I suffered for almost 12 years growing up believing that ADHD was a disability even as I learned the techniques on how to master it. This was because I still believed that I was disabled, that I was a genetic flaw, and that I had a chemical imbalance.  

I finally realized that I am not a mental disorder, that I am not a disability, and that I am not ADHD. It was at this point that I discovered that I had the power to choose whether this was going to be a gift or a torment. That choice was mine and mine alone, and likewise it is yours and yours alone.  

I discovered that I had the power to turn what I once perceived as a disability into “an ability”, and that I would use my experiences to help others realize their potential. There are many people all over the world who have been given what would be called a disability.  

There are those who have mental challenges, and many who have physical challenges. I think for many what I have shared is understandable to a certain point, but where does one draw the line. Where is a physical or mental challenge too great that it is not a matter of choosing to see it one way or another?

Surely a man with no arm or legs has a grave disability. How could that ever be considered “an ability”? Think of all the things he can’t do and all the experiences he will never have. I did not know the answer to this one either, but there are those that are among us that live truly incredible lives.  

They are here to remind us that in the face of all of our challenges, even those that seem hopeless, it is the human spirit that can persevere, rise above, and achieve greatness.

This man is none other than Nick Vujicic, and to him he is without limbs, but also without limitations.  

Click this link to find out more about this extraordinary individual.

So, then the question becomes how does one turn a disability into an ability?  

If ADHD is both a disability and ability, then how does one turn disadvantage into advantage?  

Below are steps that will help you in this journey:  

1.) Acceptance

In order to turn any disadvantage into advantage – the first step is to accept disadvantages fully. Many people who suffer with ADHD know the daily struggles they experience, however not necessarily how far those struggles can led a person into deeper suffering.  

Individuals with ADHD are 3 times more likely to suffer from drug addiction, and 10 times more likely to commit suicide. These facts can be very depressing, but without addressing them then we cannot deal with the causes of these horrific outcomes.  

It is also equally true that individuals with ADHD are 3 times more likely to become entrepreneurs, and so you can see that not everything is bad. The biggest question is why for some people they can successfully use ADHD to their advantage while others seem to struggle for the rest of their lives?  

The answer lies in some of the basic tendencies of human nature. We all tend to focus of the symptoms of our pain running away from the core causes, and running toward what makes us feel good. We do this, because the deeper we go towards the core cause the more pain we have to accept.  

While dealing with core causes will help us find true healing – there is a great temptation to more quickly mask the symptoms of our core pain with things that make us feel good temporarily. It is for these reasons why ADHD individuals are more likely to struggle with addictions such as drugs, sex, work, video games, food, extreme sports, etc.  

So, in some strange way these individuals exist in ADHD purgatory of neither accepting their core pains or their greatest strengths, but rather spent most of their time running away from who they really are. The pain we run away from is not from the weakness or “disabilities” of ADHD, but rather our reactions to them as we spend most of lives trying to be someone else.  

When you cannot accept the things you are not good at, then you will keep trying to live your life pushing yourself to be good at what you are not. This is what causes the deep pain, and leads to a life of addictions as a way to deal with that pain, and to push oneself to live a lifetime of being someone else.  

Acceptance enables you to fully accept your weakness, and also to see clearly your strengths. It is the first step into being able to turn a disability into an ability.

2.) Stop Being Someone Else

The second most important step is to stop being someone else, and to start being yourself. It is very important that once you accept your strengths and weakness that you stop trying to force yourself to be good at what you are your natural weaknesses.  

Likewise, this means to stop minimizing your strengths or talents. The journey ahead is to live, be, and express your most authentic self.  You have to start living your truth, and that means stop minimizing who you are

3.) Delegate or get help with weaknesses

In order to stop living someone else’s life and start being who you are meant to be – it is critical that you get help with weaknesses. No one is good at everything, and each of us need help in different areas.  

Learning to delegate your weaknesses to other parties whether in your business or with a virtual assistant for your career will be essential to your growth.

4.) Maximize and Exploit Strengths

Once you have delegated your weaknesses, then you have the opportunity to really exploit your strengths. The abilities that you are naturally born with are the ones that you are meant to maximize for both the individual and collective benefit.  

Focusing on what you are naturally good at, passionate about, and enjoy is your compass to your success in your life.  You will find that following this in your life and career will guide you in being able to turn disadvantage into advantage.  

The path ahead is not to get rid of your weaknesses, but to use them to your advantage. A weakness is only a weakness if it stops you from doing what you want to do. However, if you are fully aware of it and deal with it, then it cannot stop you anymore.

5.) Get Help with the Process

The final and most important part of this process is to seek out help in this journey. It is not easy to master ADHD, and to turn a disability into an ability. It takes the expertise someone who has gone through this journey to be able to properly guide you on what and how it needs to be done.  

A coach or mentor can be of great help to you as they can help you with the part that is the most difficult – learning how to use your weakness as a strength.

This is by far the hardest part, because it is very difficult to see your situation as an advantage when it most obviously looks a like a disadvantage. A coach will give you the ability to see things from someone with decades of experience in doing what you are trying to do, and learning all the nuances of how they master it. 

About the Author

CJ grew up admiring books. His family owned a small bookstore throughout his early childhood, and he would spend weekends flipping through book after book, always sure to read the ones that looked the most interesting. Not much has changed since then, except now some of those interesting books he picks off the shelf were designed by his company!