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Building on Strengths: ADHD in childhood

What is ADHD?

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects about 10% of the population. The disorder usually first appears in childhood and is more common among males than females. While the exact cause of ADHD is still being investigated, genetics is a known factor.

ADHD is increasingly described under the concept of neurodiversity. Neurodiversity is the idea that, like other identities such as personality or gender, there is a large spectrum of individual differences. Differences in the brain should therefore not automatically be labelled as a deficit. From a perspective of neurodiversity, having ADHD is simply another version of being human and has both advantages and disadvantages. While having a child that is diagnosed with ADHD can be challenging, understanding that ADHD can also be a strength and finding strategies to encourage these strengths is key for the child’s well-being and development.

ADHD is subdivided into three categories according to an individual’s primary symptoms:

1. Children with primarily inattentive ADHD are more likely to appear distracted, rather than be hyperactive or impulsive. These children may have trouble focusing, get distracted or bored easily, or appear to be daydreaming. This type of ADHD is more common in girls.

2. Children with primarily hyperactive-impulsive ADHD tend to have difficulty staying still and are restless. A child with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD is more likely to be constantly moving, be touching objects, or speaking frequently. The child may engage in these behaviours even when inappropriate to do so. This type of ADHD is more common in boys.

3. Children with combination ADHD demonstrate behaviours from both the inattention domain and the hyperactive-impulsive domain. While all ADHD diagnoses can contain elements of both inattention and hyperactive-impulsivity, the combination ADHD diagnosis sees these elements in roughly equal proportions.

Strengths of Children with ADHD

As ADHD is a relatively common childhood neurodevelopmental condition, there is a surplus of information available for both parents and children. Many of these resources, however, do not focus on the unique strengths that children with ADHD have. Instead, the focus is on ADHD symptoms as listed by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5). While these symptoms are important to know about and understand, they only tell half the story. The other half of the story is the strengths that children with ADHD have:

Children with ADHD are often more creative than their peers. This includes creative expression such as artwork, but also “out-of-the-box” thinking when approaching problems. One study assessing group problem-solving skills in childhood found that when approaching a new and difficult problem, groups with a member who had ADHD traits were more likely to solve the task.

For children with hyperactive-impulsivity or combined ADHD diagnosis, a strength is their energy and exuberance. Finding interests and passions that children with ADHD can pour their energy into can provide purpose and constructively channel the energy.

Spontaneity is another strength of individuals with ADHD. Due to the organization of the brain in individuals with ADHD, it is easier for them to break away from traditional or expected ways of thinking or behaving.

Many individuals with ADHD can hyperfocus, which is the ability to deeply concentrate on a specific goal or task. While this focus can be problematic if targeted at the wrong thing, it also means exceptional progress can be made in whatever the focus of attention is. As a few examples, many individuals with ADHD have become extraordinary at math, music, and computer-related activities.

Lastly, many children with ADHD are more resilient than their peers. Neurodiverse individuals are more likely to experience daily challenges that neurotypical individuals do not have to face. A strong support system and a strengths-based approach can foster resiliency in children and adolescents with ADHD.

Additional Resources:


ADHD Aware. (2018). Neurodiversity and Other Conditions.

Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).

Mackenzie, G. (2018). Building resilience among children and youth with ADHD through identifying and developing protective factors in academic, interpersonal, and cognitive domains. Journal of ADHD and Care, 1(1), 14-31.

Zentall, S., Kuester, D., & Craig, B. (2011). Social behavior in cooperative groups: Students at risk for ADHD and their peers. Journal of Educational Research, 104, 28-41.

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