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ADHD Awareness: Myths vs Reality

Updated: Jan 8

ADHD Awareness: Three Myths and What We Know Now October is Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, awareness month, and we wanted to share some common myths and the truths around ADHD. I was diagnosed with ADHD about five years ago, which was a complete surprise, most likely because so many misconceptions about the disorder still circulate.

ADHD is a serious condition and can create unnecessary hardships if not diagnosed and treated correctly. I often wonder what I could have done if I found out earlier. What kinds of success could have come from knowing I was neurodivergent — instead of thinking something was off about me for years. As we learn more about neurodivergence, we open our eyes, minds, and hearts to what is possible. Myth One - ADHD is not real One of the biggest and most destructive myths is that ADHD is not real. Sadly, there will always be naysayers who don’t care about medical facts to fit their agenda. For those with ADHD, we know the devastating effects of ADHD, along with the years of confusion and suffering from not understanding why we don’t feel right. However, feelings aren’t a medical fact, and luckily, plenty of science supports ADHD. Medically speaking, ADHD was first mentioned in 1902 by British pediatrician Sir George Frederic Still. He found that some affected children could not control their behavior as a typical child would, but they were still intelligent. It wasn’t until many decades later, in the 1960s, that the American Psychiatric Association (APA) formally recognized it as a mental disorder. In the 1980s, the diagnosis became known as “attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity.” A 2015 study found that ADHD has also been found to run families with a heritability chance of 57% for a child if a parent has ADHD and a 70%–80% chance for a twin if the other twin has ADHD. Brain scan studies show differences in the brain development of individuals with ADHD, such as cortical thinning in the frontal regions, reduced volume in the inferior frontal gyrus, and reduced gray matter in the parietal, temporal, and occipital cortices. We are still learning about ADHD, but strides have been made. It’s important to remember that ADHD impairs significant life activities, including social, emotional, academic, and work functioning. It is a lifespan disorder, with the majority of children with ADHD continuing to struggle with symptoms as adults. Myth Two - ADHD is a new disorder or one caused by modern society and stimuli The earliest reference to ADHD, currently known, is from 1775, when German physician Melchior Adam Weikard described attention disorders. In 1845, Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann, a psychiatrist, published the children’s book Der Struwwelpeter, featuring Zappel-Philipp, zappel meaning fidgety. Struwwelpeter is thought by many of today’s professionals to be a story of a child with ADHD. These references show that attention disorders have existed for centuries; they were not understood until recently. This is not a new or unusual phenomenon. There are many examples of diseases and conditions that were once considered fictitious or due to other factors but have found new recognition through scientific studies. And don’t forget, we used to think leeches and bloodletting cured disease. As we evolve, we have the tools to research and understand these conditions more and more. Myth Three - ADHD only affects children and mostly boys  I was guilty of this until I was diagnosed and started researching. When I heard ADHD, I thought of 8-year-old boys throwing paper planes and making fart noises in class. Just rowdy, uncontrollable kids. Does every unruly child have ADHD? No. But it’s essential to look for the signs and get your child tested if you notice behavior that mimics the disorder, which are:

  1. Impulsiveness

  2. Disorganization and problems prioritizing

  3. Poor time management skills

  4. Problems focusing on a task

  5. Trouble multitasking

  6. Excessive activity or restlessness

  7. Poor planning

  8. Low frustration tolerance

ADHD often starts in childhood, but it is important to note that it is not always and is never “cured.” Because ADHD has only recently become more understood, many adults are receiving their diagnosis. The signs are often the same in adults but may not be as noticeable because they have learned to mask them. ADHD is diagnosed three times more often in boys, but research suggests that girls are under-diagnosed. Studies have shown that ADHD manifests differently in boys than in girls. Boys tend to have impulsive, hyperactive, and externalized traits — in other words, it’s usually easier to see their symptoms. In contrast, girls tend to have inattentive, internalized traits. Girls are also less likely than boys to be sent for referrals for support or treatment, and they are generally diagnosed at older ages than boys, often in adulthood. Please note the use of gender in this section refers to studies that used assigned biological gender at birth, and research is still needed on the effects of ADHD on people who are transgender and non-binary. We do not promote the generic use of male and female and want everyone to feel comfortable with themselves and how they identify. Next Steps If you think you or your child have ADHD, find a specialist that deals with ADHD. Your therapist will administer a test and go over the results with you. If you are diagnosed with ADHD, your doctor will discuss treatment plans. This usually includes medication, but modifying your diet, increasing exercise, regularly practicing self-regulation, and using planning tools can help you manage your day and help you find the path you need for success.

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