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ADHD: Disability Theology

Thanks for stopping by my website today to continue the discussion on ADHD! Last week, I shared about my late diagnosis. This week, I want to continue with the way I handled the diagnosis as a person of faith, especially one who believes in God's power to heal. The fancy word for that is "disability theology." Disability theology is something I've had to work through do to my son's diagnosis of Down syndrome, and then with my own diagnosis of ADHD.

It never crossed my mind when I received my ADHD diagnosis to ask God to heal me. It explained the way I am so well, and I was so relieved to find answers, I mostly felt happy. I didn't accept the title "mental illness" or "disability" that came along with it. The way I looked at it, my brain functions differently and it comes with some great advantages!

I was surprised to find out some Christians believe it's something that needs healing, possibly even demonic, and I should be very careful how I talk about it. Saying something like "my ADHD" means I'm claiming it, and then there's little possibility for healing. Those same people have no problem calling my son "a Down's child", not concerned in the least that he's first and foremost A CHILD. He's not "a Down's"; he's A CHILD. So, with ADHD, I am careful about what I say, and any reference to "my ADHD" has more to do with "my particular presentation of this diagnosis" than putting this diagnosis before my faith in Jesus or any other aspect of who I am.

To help explain how I feel about this diagnosis, I need to go back to a day when my son was six months old. I could not accept the Down syndrome diagnosis, believing maybe it was incorrect. One day, it's like my eyes were opened and I saw his distinct features, the low muscle tone, and the other signs for what they were. I whispered a prayer, asking God to heal him from Down syndrome. I didn't want to raise a child with such an obvious disability. I wanted everything to go back to normal.

I heard the Lord say, "It's a gift."

I cried then. How could it be a gift? He was suffering so much, using supplemental oxygen to breathe, eating through a feeding tube, and this was all a gift? No way. I didn't want it.

Then He thundered at me, "I SAID IT'S A GIFT!"

I'd never heard anything so clearly in my life. I cuddled the baby closer, shuddering. I've written about it before in my book, so I won't get into it all here, but He said it one more time. The last time was tender. I came to understand that the medical complications of Ds weren't the gift, and I was free to pray for them to be healed. But Down syndrome itself was the gift. As he's grown and God has healed him in miraculous ways, I've come to discover that in our home lives the sweetest, most loving, most fun little guy who seems more like Jesus than most people I know. This gift comes with a high price tag, but don't all the best things?

Since ADHD is something I've been dealing with all my life, it never occurred to me to ask for healing. I just got down to the business of figuring it out.

Then in the middle of the night one night, God woke me up with a start. It was as if He was yelling at me, but the rest of my family slept peacefully. He repeatedly yelled, "ADHD IS A GIFT!"

I mean, He said it a lot of times. I was half-asleep and a little perturbed. I know, God. Why are You yelling at me? I'm trying to sleep. I understand. It's a gift. I never said it wasn't.

Just for good measure, He yelled it at me a few more times. "ADHD IS A GIFT! IT'S A GIFT!"

Okay, okay...

He then proceeded to parade the faces of international-level leaders before my eyes, stopping each one in front of me to say, "He has ADHD." or "She has ADHD." I had no knowledge of any of these people's diagnosis, but I later looked them up and they sure did. Two notable ones to me were Donald Trump and Beth Moore. I'm sure those two would love to know their names are written in the same sentence for what they have in common.

God explained to me that ADHD isn't a disability, but the way He created our minds to work so that we'd be be creative, hard-working, problem-solvers who could lead other people well. Difficulties, when handled with the power of Christ, forge strength and foster compassion. We had to learn to think outside the box because we didn't fit into the box to begin with.

And, just maybe... if we didn't ask our children to sit still all day and learn the exact same things at the exact same pace, we wouldn't even know about ADHD. We'd just celebrate the kids with extra energy and creativity, send them to the top of a tree to retrieve a ball, and get on with life. (That's definitely an over-simplification, but you get the point?)

The next night, a young woman begged me to pray for her because ADHD was reeking havoc on her life. She was so discouraged and ashamed. I realized that God had woken me up to give HER that message, so I did. She looked at me like I was crazy, but she listened. Soon after that, she actually went to the doctor and got an official diagnosis. After that, she began receiving therapy and started medication. It's made a big difference in her life. I realized that the word God gave me wasn't just for her, but for all of us. He doesn't view things the way we do. Well-managed, ADHD can be a superpower.

Lastly, I want to acknowledge that this gift also comes with a high price tag. There are real, very challenging problems that arise when it's untreated. People who don't understand how their brain works can really suffer from the negative aspects, like low dopamine, which leads to a lack of impulse control. When a person struggles to fit in with society at large, it can lead to depression and anxiety. Poor executive functioning skills can look like chronic lateness, messiness, and general disorder. Just like a person who is near-sighted wears glasses, or a person with a cold takes a decongestant, people with ADHD can benefit from treatment. There is nothing to be ashamed of and no reason it shouldn't be an option.

Church leaders who tell us that we should pray more are very well-meaning, and I love prayer. I have tremendous faith in prayer and God's ability to work miracles in and through us. However, I've spent my life praying for God to heal the symptoms of something I just didn't understand how to manage. He answered my prayers through helping me understand how my brain functions, which allows me to work with it.

A person who struggles with impulse control related to ADHD can feel like a terrible failure, missing one of the key gifts of the Spirit (self-control), when what's really going on is that their dopamine levels are dangerously low. They're trying to survive by getting a dopamine hit any way they can. Due to a lack of understanding, they reach for whatever is easily accessible at the time. For me, that was sometimes unacceptable amounts of food. For others, it could look a lot more sinful. Education on healthy ways to increase dopamine is great, but if a person is unaware of their diagnosis and untreated, it can be hard to focus on education. Using medication to stabilize, and possibly to maintain stability, is a good use of modern medicine and can save a person from a lifetime of shame and sinful choices.

One of the more interesting things I discovered in this journey is the way certain mushrooms can help with cognitive function. I'll get into that more later, but isn't it like God to supply the solution to a struggle right in nature?

I want to make a special note that low dopamine, which leads to impulse control issues, can cause a person to struggle more obviously with sin than most. Sin is sin, regardless of the reason, but this struggle is real and can lead to all kinds of other issues. If a person is led to believe it's a spiritual issue and they need to pray more, it's like telling a starving child not to steal food, but to pray for it. Praying for God to provide food is a great idea, but they're so hungry they aren't thinking clearly. Medication can be like the initial food needed to help a malnourished person return to a healthy weight, and a good therapist can be like helping that person think through ways to find provision so they don't get into that state of extreme hunger again. If you think you or your loved one might have ADHD, please call your doctor and ask for the help you need, the same as you would if you realized you needed glasses.

Love, Kimberly

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