What is ADHD? One of the biggest myths regarding ADHD is that it is simply a behavior disorder. In fact, there are many aspects of functioning that are impacted including thinking, behavioral regulation, and executive functioning. Additionally, individuals with ADHD are at more at-risk for developing mood disorders like anxiety or depression. Recent findings in neuroscience, brain imaging, and clinical research have defined ADHD as a developmental impairment of the brain’s self-management systems, or its executive functions. These executive functions enable us to plan, focus our attention, organize, prioritize, and manage multiple tasks. Here are a few more myths and misconceptions associated with ADHD along with the facts:
- Myth: ADHD is a deficit disorder.
- Fact: People with ADHD can actually hyper-focus on tasks which are engaging and hold significant interest. In contrast, they have more difficulty sustaining attention for more mundane activities.
- Myth: It is normal for all kids to be impulsive, active, or inattentive at times.
- Fact: While all children can struggle with such concerns at times, a child with ADHD has a disability which negatively impacts their ability to attend or regulate themselves. As such, it consistently impedes the child’s ability to manage academic expectations, fit into family routines, follow household rules, maintain friendships, or interact positively with family members. Such concerns are pervasive and occur across multiple environments.
- Myth: Children with ADHD are lazy and unmotivated.
- Fact: A child who finds it impossible to stay focused in class or complete a lengthy task may over- compensate by acting as if they do not want to do the task and may come across as showing reduced effort. Children with ADHD have to work harder than typically developing children to complete tasks and manage their behaviors. Many children with ADHD often experience anxiety when faced with situations that exceed their capabilities and may avoid such tasks to reduce feelings of being overwhelmed.
- Myth: ADHD only affects boys.
- Fact: While boys are more commonly diagnosed with ADHD compared to girls, females also experience ADHD. As girls’ symptoms manifest differently (I.e., often demonstrating less disruptive behaviors and more inattentive on average), they frequently go undiagnosed.
- Myth: A child who can play video games for hours could not have ADHD.
- Fact: It is quite common for a child with ADHD to be very distractible in one setting and highly focused in another. ADHD does not mean “no attention,” it means dysregulated attention. Dysregulated attention means they can hyper-focus on things they enjoy and are intrigued by for extended periods of time. In contrast, they may struggle to hold their attention on things that do not interest them (e.g., homework, chores), and may become more distractible when engaged in such tasks.
- Myth: Children with ADHD eventually outgrow it.
- Fact: Over 70% of children with ADHD continue to have symptoms and struggles in adolescence and 50% continue into adulthood. Adults with ADHD often are vulnerable to mood disorders, anxiety, and substance abuse. Predictors of whether ADHD will continue into adulthood include whether the child/adolescent is effectively diagnosed and treated, co-occurring behavioral challenges, and co-occurring depression.
While there is no cure for ADHD, there are many effective treatment options which can be tailored specifically to each individual. In most cases, ADHD treatment should include:
- Psycho-education about ADHD
- Parent training/ behavior modification
- Individual/family counseling
- School/work accommodations/modifications
- Teamwork among doctors, parents, teachers, caregivers, other health care professionals, and the child