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A.D.H.D.: Ailment or Asset?

Do you know anyone with A.D.H.D.? According to The New York Times, most kids now say they do: Michael Phelps. The Olympic superstar has become a point of pride for students and families who are affected by attention problems. As Harold S. Koplewicz, director of the New York University Child Study Center explains, "There is a special feeling when someone belongs to your club and the whole world is adoring him."

Many patients, doctors, educators, and parents indicate that the present understanding of A.D.H.D. as a deficit leads to low expectations and low self-esteem. Instead, they contend that A.D.H.D can be seen as beneficial—that endless energy and the ability to hyper-focus are often positive qualities. Dr. Edward M. Hallowell, a psychiatrist and author who has the disorder himself, says, "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."

However, some parents, such as Natalie Knochenhauer, founder of an A.D.H.D. advocacy group and mother of four children with the disorder, think otherwise. "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." Dr. Koplewicz also says, "I worry when we say A.D.H.D. is a gift, that this minimizes how real it is."

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