Most disorders have some myths surrounding them. For instance, a popular myth about cancer is that you can “catch” cancer from someone. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is no different. When people don’t know the facts about an ADHD diagnosis, they tend to fall prey to myths or to what just seems logical—to them.
While this list is not exhaustive, here are some common myths about ADHD:
- ADHD is not a medical problem
- Bad parenting causes ADHD
- ADHD is much more common in boys than girls
- ADHD is over-diagnosed
- People with ADHD are just lazy or developmentally delayed
- An ADHD diagnosis can be confirmed if stimulant medication is effective
- Children diagnosed with ADHD will outgrow the disorder
- Children treated with ADHD medications will abuse drugs when they get older
- Only children who are hyperactive have ADHD
- ADHD medication cures ADHD
ADHD is not a medical problem.
ADHD is a legitimate medical diagnosis. The American Psychiatric Society labels Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (or Attention Deficit Disorder) a medical disorder, as does the US Department of Education and the National Institutes of Health. A great deal of research has been conducted, and the conclusion is that ADHD results from problems with the neurotransmitters in the brain. This results in behavioral changes, including impulsivity, attention issues, and sometimes in hyperactivity.
Bad parenting causes ADHD
Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder have biological problems making it difficult to control impulses and behavior. Diligent parents may have tried to teach their children to behave, but the brain chemistry is always working against them. It is easy to label children with ADHD as “brats” or “undisciplined,” but the facts are that the changes in their brain are to blame—not the parents.
ADHD is much more common in boys than girls
Because of this myth, it is true that more boys are diagnosed with ADHD than are girls, but there is no evidence that girls are not just as susceptible to the disorder as are boys.
ADHD is over-diagnosed
About 3% to 7% of school-age children in the U.S. have an ADHD diagnosis. Because there is no one test that conclusively diagnoses ADHD, there may be cases of misdiagnosis, but some experts believe that it is more likely that the disorder is under-diagnosed. This is particularly true in the case of girls. Unfortunately, many children go untreated.
People with ADHD are just lazy or developmentally delayed
A person’s intellectual ability is totally unrelated to ADHD. While people who are developmentally delayed can have ADHD, many extremely intelligent people also have the disorder. Untreated ADHD can lead to problems with schoolwork, but, again, this is not because of intellectual abilities.
An ADHD diagnosis can be confirmed if stimulant medication is effective
Some people think that giving stimulant medications, such as Ritalin, can be used as a test to confirm an ADHD diagnosis. However, even children without the disorder can respond to these medications and exhibit behavior changes. A trial of medicine alone is not recommended as a way to diagnose ADHD.
Children diagnosed with ADHD will outgrow the disorder
The vast majority of people an ADHD diagnosis as children continue to have the disorder as teenagers and as adults. Unfortunately, most adults with ADHD do not get a diagnosis and, therefore, do not get treatment. These undiagnosed people are prone to anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.
The good news is that if a child is diagnosed early, he or she can learn coping mechanisms, get support, and find the right medication, if necessary, to develop into highly productive adults.
Children treated with ADHD medications will abuse drugs when they get older
Untreated ADHD is actually more likely to lead to substance abuse. If children get the support they need, in the form of behavior therapy, medication, and parental understanding, the risk of drug and alcohol abuse is reduced.
Only children who are hyperactive have ADHD
While many children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder do exhibit hyperactivity, not all do. ADHD is now used to refer both the ADHD and ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). Some children fall into a category of hyperactivity and impulsivity; some children only exhibit the inattention part of the disorder; and still others exhibit both
ADHD medications cure ADHD
ADHD medications don’t cure the ADHD, but they can be very effective at treating some of the symptoms of the disorder.
While psycho-stimulant medication can help many children with ADHD to be less hyperactive and more focused, medication should be just part of the treatment plan. Other parts of the plan may include psychotherapy and behavior modification therapy.
I guess it makes sense that the myth that hurts the most is number 2, that bad parenting is at fault. I even believed that myself in the beginning. I’d be at the playground with my daughter, and the other mothers were sitting and chatting while their kids played together. I never got to sit down because of the constant barrage of trouble my daughter was causing. She took someone’s toy, she pulled another’s hair, she ran out of the fenced area around the playground and into the street, she screamed for no apparent reason—I could go on. And I saw the way the other mothers looked at me. I felt that I was inadequate to handle my own child and that they knew it. That, of course, was before we got help, but I still hate to think of those days.