I’ll bet most of what you know about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)came from popular culture. For example, you think of Dug — the talking dog in the movie “Up” — who can’t even complete a sentence without being distracted by an imaginary squirrel. In fact you’ve probably even made jokes about ADHD when you get distracted and lose your train of thought.
But how much do you actually know about ADHD? Are people with ADHD less smart? Are they lazy? If you struggle concentrating, does that mean you have ADHD? The answers to these questions may surprise you.
ADHD is a mental illness that usually affects children. In the United States, about 6.4 million kids age 4-17 have been diagnosed with the disease. Despite this number, a lot of people still have a lot of misconceptions about it, which could have an effect on how they seek and accept treatment for ADHD.
The term “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder” wasn’t used in medicine until the 1980s, although symptoms of the disorder were discussed in the early 1900s. Back then, the diagnosis was typically thought to relate to the child having family members with psychiatric disorders, or the result of poor parenting. Strangely enough, some of these stereotypes persist even today.
Let’s see if we can tackle some of the more common myths.
Only kids can have ADHD
One of the most common myths about ADHD is that it only affects kids. That’s wrong. It’s true that more than one in 10 children in the United States has been diagnosed with ADHD, but the disorder can also affect adults. ADHD in adults is almost always accompanied by other mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. However, only a quarter of those diagnosed with the condition seek treatment.
People with ADHD are lazy
Not true. A person is considered lazy if he or she has the ability or capacity to do something but just doesn’t want to exert energy in doing it. People with ADHD aren’t lazy. They exert as much effort as those without the disease, but their condition keeps them from getting to the finish line because they’re easily distracted along the way. They’ll eventually get there, it will just take a little longer than non-ADHDers. One way to think of it: These folks will get a whole lot done — while they’re supposed to be doing something else.
People with ADHD aren’t smart
This is almost entirely false. Actually, lower IQ isn’t specifically related to ADHD. People with ADHD are often perceived to have low intelligence because they work differently than the rest of the population. But the truth is, many of these people are highly intelligent and creative; even more creative than their non-ADHD counterparts. They’re also better at managing crisis and are more intuitive thinkers.
There is only one type of ADHD
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can be broken into three forms; inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive, and combined types. The symptoms for each ADHD type vary:
- Inattentive ADHD is characterized by lack of attention to details, inability to follow or remember instructions, and getting distracted easily.
- Hyperactive-impulsive is usually marked by symptoms like fidgeting, running, and talking too much.
- Combined type is a combination of inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive ADHD.
Symptoms from the three forms of the disorder can appear individually in children without ADHD, but they’re more severe and frequent when the child has ADHD.
Children outgrow ADHD
This is partially true. Kids diagnosed with ADHD mostly grow out of it as they enter adulthood, but research shows that about 29 percent of these kids show symptoms as adults. More than 80 percent of adults showing symptoms of ADHD also have at least one other psychiatric disorder like anxiety, depression, or substance abuse.
Only boys can have ADHD
It’s true that boys are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls, but that doesn’t mean girls are less susceptible to ADHD. It’s just that the symptoms of ADHD are different in boys and girls.
ADHD symptoms in boys are more pronounced compared to girls. Boys tend to show externalized symptoms like running while girls tend to have subtler symptoms. Because of this, girls are less often referred to behavior specialists for evaluation, which leads to fewer girls being diagnosed.
Can’t concentrate? You must have ADHD
Everyone experiences moments when they can’t concentrate. This doesn’t mean you have ADHD. There are several other symptoms to consider before a person could is diagnosed with ADHD.
When behavioral health specialists work to diagnose ADHD, or any other mental illness for that matter, they use standard guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. They’ll also look at the child’s behavior paterns in comparison to the behavior of other kids of his/her age.
Medication is the only treatment for ADHD
Medications such as methylphenidate, atomoxetine, and dexamfetamine can help someone manage the symptoms of ADHD. However, drugs are almost never the permanent solution. The best treatment for ADHD is a combination of medication and behavioral therapy.
Behavioral therapy treatments have been used for decades to address the aggressive and disruptive behavior of kids, including those with ADHD. Some examples of behavioral treatments include cognitive behavioral interventions, clinical behavior therapy, and direct contingency management.
ADHD is caused by eating too much sugar
Nope. There’s no research to support this theory. Kids often get hyper when they eat large amounts of sugar, but it’s really a one-time event. A couple hours later the sugared-up children return to normal and are usually ready to take a nap.
There’s more to ADHD than hyperactivity. A diagnosis will consider several other areas including the child’s ability to follow instructions, focus on a specific task, and how easily they become distracted, just to name a few.
ADHD is caused by bad parenting
ADHD is a condition that affects how the child behaves. Although the exact cause is unknown, it’s believed that ADHD is caused by several factors including problems during pregnancy, genetics, and exposure to certain toxins.
Parenting doesn’t contribute to the development of ADHD, but it’s almost always part of the solution. Certain parenting techniques can help improve the child’s symptoms and make the disorder more manageable.
Kids with ADHD are doomed to a life of failure
This is far from the truth. Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Bill Gates, Abraham Lincoln, and Elvis Presley were all thought to show symptoms of ADHD. Kids with ADHD can grow up and be as successful as anyone else.
Factors contributing to the success of a child with ADHD are mostly related to how their parents and teachers react. If they take the time to understand what’s going on and help the child find ways to manage their illness while embracing the learning process, they greatly increase the chances of success.
Beating the stereotypes about ADHD
Lack of understanding and misconceptions about mental illness prevent people from seeking help. By taking the time to learn more about ADHD, you’ve already made an effort to beat the stereotypes. Share what you’ve learned.
ADHD isn’t the punch line to a joke. If you suspect that you or someone you love has ADHD, don’t hesitate to talk to a specialist. Treatment is available, and it works.