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The Myths of ADHD - BUSTED!

Like any other mental health disorder, people with ADHD are inundated withmisunderstandings, stigma, and negative judgements from others around them who just don’t get it. This does not help kids with ADHD receive the support they need and can keep parents from recognizing when their child could have a bigger issue (such as ADHD) that requires a professional evaluation. Here are a few common misunderstandings and myths about ADHD. If we can clear up some of the smoke maybe we can do something about the fire!

Myth #1:  ADHD is just an excuse for bad behavior and poor parenting.

Truth: ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that primarily affects the frontal lobe of the brain, which is in charge of impulse control, focus, and other executive functioning skills. For kids with ADHD, the operating system in these areas is slow or broken which means that,regardless of the parenting that child receives, they can struggle to respond to situations in appropriate ways. Most discipline strategies are based on the premise that a child will think BEFORE they act, recalling previous consequences of similar actions beforehand. Kids with ADHD have a very limited ability to stop and think before taking action due to their impulsivity.  They also have difficulty recalling what may have happened last time they were in a similar situation and visualizing the result, which may seem to others as if they don’t learn from their mistakes. For this reason, it can appear like they make multiple negative choices repeatedly (Read…ARE NAUGHTY), however, a good portion of the cause can be out of their control.

Myth #2: Everyone has ADHD.

Truth: Although we can all lose focus or become scattered and disorganized, it does not mean we all have ADHD. ADHD is diagnosed through an evaluation process where information is gathered from multiple sources and a kid must display a minimum number of symptoms consistently across several environments. Typically evaluation is done by a physician, psychologist, psychiatrist or mental health therapist. There are different diagnostic tools that are given to parents, teachers, and/or daycare providers to rate their observations of the child’s behaviors as it relates to physical, cognitive, and emotional functioning. The majority of these tools use a scale to rate the child’s behaviors compared to what would be appropriate for children the same age. This is not a careless process and not a disorder that deserves to be minimized.

Myth #3: They can focus when they want to, so it’s not ADHD, it’s their choice.

Truth: Again, because of the effects on the frontal lobe, kids with ADHD have a very difficult time regulating their focus. It is not that they are without the ability, it is that they can’t consistently control that ability. They may hyper-focus on a project or game particularly interesting to them for hours and find it difficult to pull away once they are fully engaged in such an activity. Or they may not be able to focus at all on something, even if they know it is important and genuinely want to. In addition, changing their focus from one task to another may be tricky as well.

Myth #4: ADHD is what we call kids who can’t sit still.

Truth: ADHD is known for its effect on a person’s ability to control their impulses. This may include physical impulses (hyperactivity) and self-control. Because this symptom can be so disruptive in classrooms, at home, and in the community, it is the likeliest symptom that will lead people to have their child evaluated. However, ADHD can present in people in ways that are much less publicly noticeable, such as focus problems, working memory issues, difficulty with emotional control, difficulty maintaining motivation to finish tasks and complete goals, ordisorganization, as well as other executive functioning skills.

Myth #5: People with ADHD are lazy and don’t care enough to finish things they start.

Truth: What many people don’t realize is that the ability to sustain motivation to do things that are hard or uninteresting to a person is broken for folks with ADHD. Sustaining motivation to think through or persevere through hard or difficult (especially mentally difficult) tasks is one of our executive functioning skills. You may be thinking, “But it’s hard for everyone to persevere through hard things.” Yes, this is true. However, neuro-typical (that’s my extra cool word for people who do not have neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD) folks have the ability to visualize the reward (whether emotional or tangible) at the end of the struggle, remember how important this outcome is to them, and can control the impulse to quit when things get rough. For all these reasons and more, it is quite common for ADHD kids to avoid or give up on tasks that seem hard to them, but doable to the rest of us.

Myth #6: ADHD is just a label.

Truth: As stated above, ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder which is also listed in the American Psychiatric Association DSM-5. This means it is a diagnosable disorder of mental health.  It has been scientifically researched as primarily a genetic disorder with clear evidence that there are differences in brain functioning for those diagnosed with it. Although, due to stigma and misunderstanding, it is reasonable to understand why some parents avoid their child being evaluated or identified as having ADHD. This stigma also keeps those children from gaining support and treatment that could give them the opportunity to function at home, school,and in the community to the best of their abilities.  When an appropriate ADHD diagnosis is determined it opens a road map of opportunities for families to serve their child better. A confirmed diagnosis can bring opportunities for medical/mental health treatment, and accommodations at school and other community settings that will help the ADHD child be more successful. Best of all it will help the child be better understood by others and understand themselves better, increasing their self-esteem.

There are many more myths of ADHD, but hopefully the ones listed above have generated enough curiosity to warrant digging into this topic further before rushing to conclusions. At the end of the day, we must remember that a great majority of children desire to please and want to do well if given the opportunity. If we can make certain kids with ADHD have an improved CAPABILITY to do that by recognizing where they struggle - what a difference it would make.

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