Others have suggested that I show how I’ve overcome it, grown stronger, and how it supports a valuable lesson. But I worry that it might sound like an excuse?
Though this is usually tricky to pull off. The CDC says that up to 11% of US children aged 4-17 have diagnosed ADHD. Anecdotally, for admissions readers, it probably seems a great deal higher. You can rest assured that universities receive hundreds or thousands of applications each year describing learning difficulties of some sort, so already you’re swimming in a pool that’s mostly filled with poorly thought out excuses for past failures. (Not that these excuses aren’t justified, just that this is a cutthroat competition seeking to find the safest bets.) This is particularly troublesome for ADHD which is, by definition as far as I can tell, the exact opposite of the “executive function” that correlates closely to academic success, and is considered in a blithe, superficial way by most people.
The key to pulling it off is showing how you’ve overcome ADHD to achieve the SAME SUCCESSES that those cutthroat executive function robots have achieved. In this scenario, you’re MORE impressive, because it indicates that you have supernatural powers of grit and determination, that you’re effectively invincible. You’re the Rocky Balboa of the academic world. And everyone bets on Rocky.
If, however, you’re a step below your competition, no matter how pretty a picture you paint, no matter how welcoming and inclusive our culture claims to be, you’re still someone who hasn’t achieved what our most celebrated peers achieve. You’re not Rocky. You’re the journeyman with an unremarkable 12-19 record. A pro, for sure, but you’re not winning championship belts.
So, if you haven’t achieved those successes, you probably shouldn’t be writing about ADHD.
OR…if you can re-frame the story to focus on the UNIQUE successes you have achieved, then that’s something. If you’re writing an SOP for a graduate program in child psychology, and have a laundry list of related accomplishments, then it might even be an edge. If your grades aren’t stellar in general, but they ARE pretty good for your weird academic niche like Educational Technology or Art History, and you present yourself as being deadly focused on that niche, then yes, it could be a solid argument.
The key, as usual, is being 100% honest about your very specific competition. Look at them and ask: “Do I measure up?” If the answer is yes, then overcoming a learning disability can be a strong positive factor in your application.