Like other health conditions, there are many myths and beliefs surrounding ADHD. It's important for everyone to understand the facts about ADHD because misunderstandings can result in delayed diagnosis and treatment, as well as people feeling left out, and unheard.
ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is a medical condition affecting brain development and activity in those with the condition. Symptoms include trouble sitting still, and lack of self-control, which can affect a person at home, school, or work. In this article, I’ll outline 10 common myths about ADHD and discuss the truths behind the condition.
Myth #1: ADHD is caused by poor parenting.
While it is important for children to have structure, discipline, and caring parents, poor parenting does not cause ADHD. Since children with ADHD often display behaviors such as inattentiveness, lack of self-control, hyperactivity, or impulsivity, others may perceive this as a lack of parenting or poor parenting as the cause.
However, it can actually be more harmful than beneficial if parents punish their children for ADHD symptoms since they are at times unable to control their behaviors. It’s important for parents and children to seek behavioral therapy and professional guidance on how to manage the child’s symptoms. Read more about the potential causes of ADHD.
Myth #2: ADHD isn't an actual medical disorder.
Some people tend to believe that ADHD is not considered a real medical disorder, but that people with ADHD should try harder to get their tasks done and focus. Research, however, shows there are significant differences in the brain of a person with ADHD versus someone who is neurotypical.
ADHD causes differences in:
- Brain structure
- Brain function
- Brain development
ADHD can also affect mood regulation, emotions, and brain cell connections. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers in our brain that are responsible for different functions. Te key neurotransmitters for ADHD are dopamine and noradrenaline, and in the ADHD brain there is dysregulation of the dopamine system.
Myth #3: People with ADHD are lazy.
People with ADHD tend to need more structure and reminders in order to complete their tasks. They may also find it difficult to complete tasks because they find it boring, or have to pay attention for a long stretch of time.
Kids and adults with ADHD struggle with executive function, which is a set of mental skills that helps us do things like organize, plan, and stay focused on tasks we’ve started. When having a hard time with these skills, it can be challenging to start and finish even small tasks.
Read more discipline strategies for children with ADHD.
Myth #4: Medication is always the best treatment for ADHD.
Medication can be an effective, and necessary treatment for ADHD, depending on the child. Some parents find their child reacts negatively to ADHD medications, and experience side effects. However, medication is not the right fit for every child with ADHD. There are other treatment options as well, such as behavior therapy, lifestyle changes (proper nutrition, sleep, and exercise), and education on how to manage symptoms.
Myth #5: Girls can’t have ADHD.
Boys are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD when compared to girls. However, this does not mean girls can not have ADHD. It does mean that girls are more likely to be undiagnosed, or have their symptoms go overlooked.
Girls with ADHD tend to have different symptoms than boys and are more likely to be diagnosed with the inattentive presentation of ADHD. Girls may not show symptoms of hyperactivity and impulse control. Instead, they may seem more withdrawn, easily distracted, or hyper-talkative.
Myth #6: ADHD is just a learning disability.
ADHD is not a learning disability. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder. While the symptoms of ADHD can cause a child to have difficulty learning, it doesn’t cause a direct affect on actually learning the materials.
There are other conditions that are oftentimes related to ADHD, causing people to believe that ADHD is a learning disability. About 20-30% of children with ADHD also have a specific learning disability.
Myth #7: Children with ADHD will outgrow it.
Not all children with ADHD will outgrow their condition. In fact, most children don’t completely outgrow their ADHD, but many are able to manage their symptoms to the point where they lessen.
Nearly 70 out of 100 children with ADHD continue to have symptoms during their teen years and about 50 out of 100 have symptoms into adulthood. It’s also common for symptoms to change as children get older, and find new ways to manage them.
Myth #8: ADHD always causes hyperactivity and inattention.
There are three presentations of ADHD; inattentive, hyperactive, and combined presentation. Children with inattentive ADHD do not usually display hyperactivity, and instead, they may be distracted easily or lack social judgment.
Children who have hyperactive ADHD may act more impulsively and have trouble sitting still, but would not have difficulty with inattention. The combined presentation includes behaviors seen in both inattentive and hyperactive ADHD.
Myth #9: People with ADHD don’t try hard enough.
When people with ADHD struggle with tasks, it’s not because they’re not trying hard enough. It could be because they are having a difficult time focusing, paying attention, or staying organized.
When you tell someone with ADHD they’re not trying hard enough, you’re invalidating how they feel, and making them feel insecure for not being able to complete the task. For people with ADHD, starting and finishing tasks can be overwhelming and cause anxiety. Instead of encouraging them to try harder, tell them how proud you are of them for trying, or offer to help them complete the task.
Myth #10: ADHD is over diagnosed.
About 8.8% of children and 4.4% of adults are diagnosed with ADHD. While more people have been diagnosed with ADHD in recent years, some people believe ADHD is over diagnosed. However, there are several factual reasons why there are increased ADHD diagnoses, such as:
- Increased awareness of ADHD
- More tools for detecting the condition
- Increased expectations in children
- More recognition of symptoms in adults that were not previously diagnosed
- Recognition of symptoms in females having ADHD
While modern research has discovered new information about ADHD, many myths still circulate and cause confusion about the condition. The reality is, that people with ADHD deserve respect, support, and proper symptom management. Understanding the truths of ADHD is one of the best ways to do that.