Ten Top Misconceptions About ADHD

Misconceptions about ADHD abound, despite the fact that at least 1 in 20 U.S. children are affected. These misconceptions about ADHD make it more difficult to identify and treat the condition, with the result that some children and adults go undiagnosed and untreated. Here are the top ten misconceptions about ADHD—some of them are bound to surprise you, while others will have you nodding your head:

#1 Misconception: ADHD is something someone made up to excuse bad behavior and poor grades

Reality Check: ADHD is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a genuine disorder that is “characterized by a pattern of behavior, present in multiple settings (e.g., school and home), that can result in performance issues in social, education, or work settings.”

The DSM-5 specifies that children must have at least six symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity to be diagnosed with ADHD, while teens and adults must have five such symptoms.

Conclusion: ADHD is all too real, affects daily life for millions of sufferers, and since it tends to run in families, may even have a genetic component.

#2 Misconception: A quiet child who sits nicely in class, cannot possibly have ADHD

Reality Check: Not all children with ADHD have symptoms of hyperactivity. ADHD has three subtypes:

  • Combined Presentation with symptoms of both inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity
  • Predominantly Inattentive Presentation with mostly symptoms of inattention
  • Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation with mostly symptoms of hyperactivity/impulsivity

The second type of ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Presentation, used to be known as “ADD” because this type of ADHD presents without hyperactivity or impulsivity. Children and adults with this type of ADHD tend to look as though they are daydreaming. They seem to be off in their own little worlds. Those with this type of ADHD often go undiagnosed because the symptoms are less obvious. By the way, people with ADHD can have one subtype of ADHD and go on to develop a different subtype.

Conclusion: You don’t have to be bouncing off the walls to have an all-too-real case of ADHD.

#3 Misconception: Kids with ADHD just need some firm parenting

Reality Check: ADHD has nothing to do with poor or lax parenting. It’s not about putting your foot down and making that child behave. While children with ADHD can be wild and out of control, this is the result of a brain-based medical condition. It’s not helpful to criticize parents who are struggling to raise kids with ADHD and will only make things worse by generating hurt feelings.

Conclusion: Parenting doesn’t cause ADHD, a medical condition that is looking more and more like a genetic disorder every day.

#4 Misconception: Girls don’t get ADHD

Reality check: More boys are diagnosed with ADHD. That’s because they are more likely to present with the more obvious symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity. Girls tend to get the second subtype of ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Presentation, which is the type without hyperactivity/impulsivity. A teacher may not realize that a quiet girl who tends to daydream in class a lot, is actually showing signs of ADHD. That’s why experts believe that a lot of girls with ADHD are falling under the radar. They simply escape notice and go untreated for the condition, which is a shame.

Conclusion: Statistics show more boys have ADHD than girls, because girls with ADHD get the quieter type of ADHD and are going undetected, undiagnosed, and untreated.

#5 Misconception: ADHD is way over diagnosed

Reality Check: As awareness of ADHD grows, more people than ever before are being diagnosed with ADHD. It sometimes looks as though just about everyone has it. Because of this new awareness there is also a kneejerk tendency to diagnose and medicate children for ADHD without careful examination, when they act out in class. At the same time, research shows that ADHD is also under diagnosed among girls and minorities.

Conclusion: ADHD is both over and under diagnosed.

#6 Misconception: Kids can outgrow ADHD

Reality Check: ADHD doesn’t go away. Someone with ADHD is stuck with it for life. The symptoms may change over time and one can get better at coping with the symptoms of ADHD, but that’s not the same thing as outgrowing the condition. The symptoms continue into adulthood.

Conclusion: Kids with ADHD grow up to be adults with ADHD.

#7 Misconception:  Medication is the only thing you need to treat ADHD

Reality Check: Medications such as Adderall and Ritalin are the first line of treatment for ADHD. But there are other things one can do to help cope with the symptoms of ADHD. Behavioral therapy, for instance, can be very helpful in curbing impulsivity, and writing up and sticking to a schedule can be helpful for maintaining order in a child or adult’s everyday life. Using a system like Google Calendar is a great help here, as reminders can be scheduled, to prevent the person with ADHD from forgetting important tasks.

Conclusion: Medication is a big help for treating the symptoms of ADHD, but there are other helpful therapies and steps to take, as well.

#8 Misconception: Ritalin and other meds don’t help adults with ADHD

Reality Check: Ritalin and other stimulants used to treat ADHD are most useful in younger children. The medications help children to sit attentively and/or without fidgeting in class. After a few years of taking the medication, the children have effectively been trained to manage their symptoms and can often take  a smaller dose of medication or stop taking the medication altogether. But every case of ADHD is different and some children will continue to need medication. Sometimes, adults are not diagnosed as children, and the medication may be a tremendous help to them in managing their symptoms of ADHD.

Conclusion: Every case of ADHD is different. For some adults with ADHD, medication is very helpful for symptom management.

#9 Misconception: If you have trouble concentrating, you for sure have ADHD

Reality Check: At one time or another, everyone has trouble focusing. Not getting enough sleep, or being stressed out can affect your ability to concentrate. Vitamin deficiencies, depression, and even not getting enough exercise can make it difficult to concentrate, too. Most of the reasons behind an inability to pay attention are easy to fix and have nothing to do with ADHD.

Conclusion: ADHD should not be the only or even the first thing you think of, when you see yourself or your child having trouble concentrating.

#10 Misconception: ADHD isn’t so bad

Reality Check: People with ADHD struggle for a lifetime with managing even simple chores like paying the bills on time (which can affect credit ratings), or not leaving the sugar out of the recipe when baking a cake, for instance. The challenges of ADHD are also rough on relationships.  Finally, ADHD makes it hard to manage lifestyle issues, which leads to higher rates of obesity, which in turn may lead to higher levels of blood cholesterol, and a risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Conclusion: Living with ADHD is hard. Minimizing the struggle and the suffering of those with ADHD is demeaning and uncaring.

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About Varda Epstein

Varda Meyers Epstein serves as editor in chief of Kars4Kids Parenting. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Varda is the mother of 12 children and is also a grandmother of 12. Her work has been published in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Learning Site, The eLearning Site, and Internet4Classrooms.