What are some common myths of ADHD?
It is important to understand common myths of ADHD so that we can debunk them when they come up in different situations.
Myth 1: ADHD doesn't exist
The first myth is that ADHD doesn't exist. The child's just lazy, and they're unmotivated. I hear or see these labels a lot. At the same time, some youth who struggle with ADHD have passions and strengths outside of the classroom. I always encourage families and other professionals to reframe this idea of a child being unmotivated. It is more likely that they have a skill deficit. It's not that they won't do a certain task as a matter of principle or because they're lazy, it's because they can't do it. In terms of ADHD not existing, plenty of research validates that ADHD is a neurological lifelong disorder.
Myth 2: Someone with ADHD cannot pay attention and/or sit still
The idea that someone with ADHD cannot pay attention or sit still is false. There are times when they can sit still and/or pay attention. ADHD affects people in non-preferred, difficult tasks or demanding environments. For example, attentional difficulties occur when the child's expected to sit for a long period of time and there are a lot of demands on their attention, versus sitting still while passively watching a movie about a topic they're very interested in. This can be really frustrating about ADHD and how it presents for certain people. It's consistently inconsistent sometimes. A child might be able to do something in one situation or in one setting, but they struggle the next time.
Myth 3: Someone with ADHD cannot complete their work, get good grades/test scores
ADHD is not related to intelligence or IQ. I'm sure you've also seen this often: "When a child with ADHD can pay attention, they're quite smart." It's not about being unintelligent. There are many gifted individuals who also have ADHD.
Myth 4: ADHD can be caused by the environment - like parenting approaches or TV/video games
As I said before, no credible evidence indicates that social environment alone can lead to a child developing ADHD. We know because of the sibling and twin studies I referenced earlier. After accounting for those genetic factors, there's little variation that can be explained by other things. Social factors like parenting approaches or video game use certainly impact functioning and possibly outcomes for a child, but they do not alone single-handedly create ADHD.
Myth 5: Medication can cure ADHD or become addictive
Another myth is that medication can cure ADHD or, problematically, ADHD meds become addictive. First, there are no medications that cure ADHD. The medications are used to effectively treat the symptoms and address the brain-based differences so the person can manage tasks temporarily.
Regarding addiction, there is no credible evidence that using stimulant medications to treat ADHD in childhood leads to an addictive disorder in adolescents or adulthood. That said, are there individuals who misuse stimulant medications? Of course. But when those medications are used as prescribed, in a therapeutic dose, there's no evidence of addiction. In fact, there's evidence of quite the opposite. With appropriate use, medications can be a protective factor. In other words, it decreases the likelihood that someone will misuse substances to self-medicate or unhealthily cope with difficulties that arise.
Myth 6: Children eventually outgrow ADHD
The last myth is that children eventually outgrow ADHD. Although there are many ADHD symptoms that improve over time, most adults diagnosed with ADHD at a young age have some difficulties that persist. Remember, since the normal pattern of maturation is simply delayed, that can explain why many youth with ADHD are first described as immature. Their brain development is likely similar to a child that is younger at that point in time. But as the child ages, that maturation starts to catch up to their peers a bit. It may seem like they outgrew it, but what is really happening is that gap or difference in maturation and brain development starts to close as they age. By age 15 or 20, those functioning differences or discrepancies become less noticeable or milder in presentation than their peers. But they aren't actually outgrowing it 100%.
This ATE is an excerpt from the course, Understanding and Supporting Children and Teens with ADHD, by Heather Schmitt, PhD, LP.