Common ADHD Myths
Myths are ableist and perpetuate stereotypes.
While they may seem harmless, myths have persisted throughout school and community settings, the music and film industry, religion, as well as the media; they are a part of the long-standing social fabric of accepted ableism that exists for ADHD and so many other disabilities.
Myths surrounding ADHD are unfounded pieces of information that over time society has created to justify what most do not understand. These myths act as a barrier to understanding and create a lack of empathy for anyone who is Neurodivergent. They also rob people of the power to use their voices to advocate for, and educate others about ADHD.
When you believe these myths without question, you may not realize that what you are actually doing is harming another person, and community. Unfortunately this is one type of damage that myths create.
As you read these common misunderstandings, please consider how they may impact a person and their life, or how they may even deny someone the tools that they require to function.
We ask you to consider how you can debunk these myths and act as an ally to give people of the ADHD Community a stronger voice.
Myth: ADHD is a new disorder made up by the pharmaceutical company to sell drugs.
False - False - ADHD has existed long before we knew what a stimulant medication was, such as ritalin - a common medication used to manage ADHD. ADHD was first described in the year 1775, when a German doctor described a patient with symptoms of ADHD in a medical textbook. It wasn’t even until 1955 that the FDA approved the use of Ritalin. ADHD has gone by many different names over time, first being given a name in 1902. The current standing name was given in 2013.
Myth: Children with ADHD are unable to focus.
False: ADHD is not a deficit in attention, it is a difficulty with controlling one's attention. Otherwise known as attention regulation. Children with ADHD are actually really good at focusing on things that interest them. For example, you may have noticed a child with ADHD focusing on building Lego, playing video games or even reading books for hours. This is called hyper-focus or intense focus, and it can be a great strength. Although it can also become a challenge to move on to another task when needed.
However, if a child is supposed to be focused on something that is not of interest such as a grammar lesson or another topic otherwise deemed boring, challenges in attention regulation can show up as distractibility.
Let's say during a lesson there is a noise in the hall that all the kids heard. The children without ADHD will recognize that the noise is not important, but the child with ADHD can't help but to keep their attention on the noise in the hall. It's not that children with ADHD can't focus, it's a difficulty regulating where their attention needs to be at that time.
Myth: All children with ADHD are hyperactive.
False: Many children have the inattentive type of ADHD and are not hyperactive at all. Having the word hyperactive front and center in the name is confusing. It also means that many kids don't get the support they need because most parents and teachers cannot physically see their challenges as ADHD. This tends to happen more often with girls.
Myth: ADHD symptoms are present all the time, in every situation.
False: This is not true either. Although the symptoms are present in many different situations, they are not present in all situations. A child with ADHD can focus better and move less if they are doing something that interests them, is new or different. Symptoms can also depend on the environment. A child with ADHD can focus better and move less if they are given a lot of positive and clear feedback. Also when distractions are reduced, expectations are clear, and when there is a time limit and when support is given when needed.
Myth: Everyone is a little bit ADHD (ADHD must not exist, because everyone has a little bit of trouble focusing or remembering things sometimes).
False: This is like saying that asthma doesn't exist because everyone gets winded sometimes. Yes it's true that everyone forgets sometimes and everyone gets distracted occasionally. But these things happen to people with ADHD much more frequently than it does to other people, which can make life really difficult.
Myth: Kids with ADHD want to annoy you on purpose.
False: Much of their behaviour is due to their ADHD and is out of their control. We know this because research has shown that there are differences between the brains of children with ADHD and the brains of neurotypical children. The two main differences in brain development are that some of the brain structures are smaller and the cortical brain layers are thinner in children with ADHD. This creates different thinking processes and behaviours. There are brain images from a study by the National Institute of National Health that show these differences. Children with ADHD develop certain brain functions 30% later than neurotypical children. One of these functions is attention regulation, which means a 9 year with ADHD may have the attention span of a neurotypical 6 year old. It is important to point out that, these brain differences absolutely do not affect one's intelligence.
Due to these differences, parents and teachers really need to adjust their expectations. We also know that the brain's reward system does not work as smoothly as it does for neurotypical children. There is less of the neurotransmitter called dopamine in the brains of children with ADHD. Because of this, children with ADHD need more rewards from teachers and parents to motivate them.