“ADHD Superpowers:” Toxic Positivity vs. Celebration of Strengths
When we refer to ADHD superpowers, are we dismantling ADHD myths or perpetuating toxic positivity? Could it be both? Below, ADDitude readers reflect on their ADHD traits and how they view them.
What’s the harm in turning lemons into lemonade? In spit shining a turd? In turning that frown upside down? According to many disability advocates, we cross a line from optimism to toxic positivity when we refer to ADHD as a superpower. By romanticizing real, life-altering symptoms as superpowers, we invalidate and diminish the struggles of so many children and adults already fighting hard against ADHD myths and stigma, they say.
At the same time, many ADDitude readers tell us they wouldn’t trade away their ADHD traits if they could. They insist that their ADHD brains are unique, creative, unbridled, and often inspired. And they aren’t wrong.
Of course, every strength has its weakness. Curiosity is challenged by distractibility. Spontaneity is challenged by impulsivity. Balancing strengths and symptoms can feel like a superhuman task, so maybe the superpower metaphor is not so far off?
We asked ADDitude readers: What is your stance? Are you living with superpowers, super deficits, or somewhere in the middle? Share your thoughts in the comments section above.
ADHD, the Superpower
“The ability to hyperfocus is a superpower that my ADHD grants. However, the cost is high, and it’s not an on-demand gift. I perceive my ADHD as if I were a ‘junior X-Man’ with differences I poorly understand and cannot (yet) control. Perhaps I need Professor Xavier!” — Teresa, Ohio
“I love stories about superheroes that highlight the limitations and burdens they have to live with as a result of their superpower. Think of Clark Kent: Every time he shakes someone’s hand or interacts with an object, he has to manage his strength or else break whatever he touches. I think of ADHD the same way. My ability to hyperfocus and my difficulty focusing on undesirable tasks are two sides of the same coin. The same is true for my sensitivity, insight, and empathy, my intense emotions, my creativity, and the overwhelm that comes from having an impossible to-do list. They all need to be managed so that they don’t hurt me or anyone else.”
“As a high school ELA and journalism teacher, my ADHD allows me to be organic in my teaching, flexible in my planning, empathetic with my student’s needs, and creative in my instructional strategies. I pivot on a dime when my students need something different and can make adjustments on the fly when I see that kids need more or less… Since both my daughter and I experienced her high school years knowing about her ADHD and I realized much later in life how I experience my own ADHD, I have these tools in my teaching toolbox for any student who needs research-based, solid supports for learning.” — Debbie
ADHD, the Super Deficit
“While it’s probably true that ADHD people are more likely to wear capes than neurotypicals, and I appreciate the strengths-based spirit of calling ADHD a superpower, I feel like ‘superpower’ is an oversimplified version of the gifts and challenges of an ADHD brain. Instead, thinking of ADHD as our nuclear power has always made more sense to me. When nuclear fuel rods are entirely smothered, no one benefits from the potential. And left unchecked? Meltdown. The trick is figuring out how to effectively harness our nuclear power so that it strikes the ideal balance between benefit and the other extremes.” — Tom, New Hampshire
“I cringe when I hear it referred to as a superpower. We’re just different; no better or worse than anyone else.” — An ADDitude reader
“While I accept my brain as a whole (and it has many wonderful things going for it), most of my ADHD traits have caused me nothing but trouble since childhood. It has negatively affected school, work, and relationships. It has been a constant struggle to succeed in spite of ADHD and due to a very late diagnosis.” — An ADDitude reader
“I think the people that refer to ADHD as their ‘superpower’ are probably overlooking the fact that they have a significant amount of social, cultural, and financial capital that affords them this stance.” An ADDitude reader
“It’s a curse. A poison. My brain is not mine; it functions independent of me, and I am unwillingly along for the ride. I am happy for those who believe it is a superpower, but in my case, it is an obstacle to overcome.” — Travis
“Maybe it’s accurate to say ADHD causes superpowered anxiety, superpowered stress, and superpowered emotional dysregulation. But none of those are actually super good.” — An ADDitude reader
Somewhere in the Middle
“It’s both but emphasizing the positive is a choice. Some of what I consider to be my best qualities as a therapist and a parent can be directly linked to my ADHD brain: detailed and fastidious work output, enthusiasm and interest in special projects, finding lots of things interesting, and having compassion and understanding of others whose brains are wired a little differently. But it’s just as important to know what kind of struggles I am working with so I can make adaptations. In the end, I believe 100% that ADHD makes me a better therapist and a parent.” — Sara
“I’m smart and creative, but I undermine myself to severe detriment because of my ADHD. I don’t want to fall into the trap of hating ADHD because it is part of me. At the same time, I am not going to ignore that ADHD is a large stumbling block for simply existing in today’s world.” — Jashin
“I vacillate between the idea that my ADHD is a superpower and a super burden. My smarts, my creativity, and my ability to navigate clutch situations and create amazing things on a deadline can feel like magic. At the same time, the struggles are real and many. My RSD, anxiety, and executive function deficits make every single task a challenge every single day. I often find myself wishing I could — for at least a short time — have a normal brain. I imagine I could accomplish so much and have so much success. At the same time, if I had a normal brain, would any of the magic be there?” — Beth, Colorado
“My hyperfocus is usually a superpower, but my odd relationship to time causes the most problems in my life. Deadlines, bills, scheduling, and the resulting stress and frustration is a considerable drain of energy and self-esteem. Balancing between hyperfocus and time challenges, as well as other life priorities, is a difficult challenge.” — Julia, Connecticut
“ADHD is definitely a superpower, but as with all talents, it can be overwhelming. It allows me to think fast, be creative, and have unlimited amounts of energy. If I do not manage that correctly, I will have unlimited tiredness and frustration. It took me almost 50 years to find the balance… And as all life is about balance, I am just as often down in the dumps due to mismanagement.” — Yolanda, Netherlands
“The more I learn about my ADHD, the more empowered I feel. When I am capable of harnessing that power is when I feel super. Right now, when I am struggling, it’s my greatest antagonist.” — Jen, Washington
“Trying to wash three days’ worth of dishes or clean a bathroom, and still not getting it done after two days, is not a superhero moment. However, a stressful deadline, an emergency, or something triggering my hyperfocus brings out the superpower, like Diana turning into Wonder Woman… I don’t often, if ever, find a middle ground where the dishes get done by the end of each day and all projects are started and finished on schedule.” — Tiffany, France
ADHD Strengths vs. Toxic Positivity: Next Steps
- Download: All the Best Parts of ADHD
- Read: It’s Not as Bad as You Think
- Read: Putting My Strengths to Work
Thank you for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider subscribing. Your readership and support help make our content and outreach possible. Thank you.