Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is becoming better understood in the scientific community, but it remains opaque to the general public. This is partially due to the nature of ADHD symptoms; because may of them appear similar to common childlike behaviors, they often go unnoticed or underestimated in affected children. On top of that, most people aren’t aware of just how many different ADHD treatments exist—and how effective they can be.
Equipping yourself with more knowledge can help you better identify and understand ADHD as it manifests in children (as well as adults). The first step is dispelling some of the most common myths and misconceptions.
The Most Common ADHD Myths
These are some of the most common myths related to ADHD:
- ADHD is made up or isn’t a “real” medical condition. Some people still believe that ADHD isn’t a real medication condition—that it’s a made-up condition used to describe kids who are restless or unable to easily pay attention. However, the medical community has a consensus that ADHD is a “real” diagnosable condition, as evidenced by many qualities of the disorder, including the fact that it’s hereditary.
- ADHD is just bad behavior. Many of the symptoms of ADHD can be described as “bad behavior,” such as failing to pay attention, throwing temper tantrums, or exhibiting excessive energy at inappropriate times. But ADHD isn’t just about bad behavior, and in many cases, children aren’t choosing to exhibit it.
- ADHD can be overcome with willpower. Kids with ADHD are often prone to outbursts, and may find themselves distracted in class or when working on activities. Accordingly, some adults believe that these tendencies can be overcome with willpower alone. This simply isn’t the case. ADHD impairs a child’s executive functions, making it physically difficult, if not impossible, to control certain impulses without help.
- Kids with ADHD all act the same way. There are many commonly recognizable symptoms of ADHD, but that doesn’t mean all children with ADHD will demonstrate all of them, or that they all act the same way. In reality, most children with ADHD showcase a unique blend of symptoms, making it hard to diagnose the disorder and even harder to treat it in any unified, universal way.
- ADHD is exclusive to boys/men. It’s true that boys are more commonly diagnosed with ADHD, but girls can have ADHD as well. In fact, in adulthood, the distribution appears to be more or less equal. There are many potential explanations for this, including the possibility that symptoms manifest more subtly in girls, or the possibility that bias is affecting diagnoses. In any case, children of any gender can have ADHD.
- Medication is always the best way to treat ADHD. There are several prescription medications that can alleviate the symptoms of ADHD, helping children focus, gain control of their thoughts and feelings, and feel less stressed. Among these are stimulants like amphetamines. While these work for many children, medication isn’t always the best way to treat ADHD; therapy, cognitive exercises, physical exercise, dietary changes, and even meditation can all help.
- ADHD is a learning disability. It’s commonly understood that ADHD is a learning disability, but this isn’t quite right. Children with ADHD can oftentimes learn in a normal way—it’s just that they have trouble focusing and taking in information in certain conditions. That said, ADHD does commonly co-occur with other learning disabilities, resulting in understandable confusion between the two.
- ADHD is a short-term disorder that kids “grow out” of. Some children with ADHD eventually gain more control over their thoughts, feelings, and responses, entering adulthood (or even adolescence) with no more problematic symptoms. However, this isn’t true of all cases. Many people struggle with ADHD well into adulthood.
- Kids with ADHD can’t focus on anything. Some people erroneously believe that if a child has ADHD, they won’t be able to focus on anything. If they see someone with ADHD paying attention or focusing on a task successfully, they may take this as an indication that they don’t “really” have ADHD, or that they’re faking the illness in other cases. However, ADHD may make it hard to focus on some tasks, while having little to no effect on others; for example, some children with ADHD specifically struggle with auditory inputs, and can focus adequately in silence.
- ADHD isn’t serious. ADHD isn’t a life-threatening illness, nor does it result in chronic physical pain or obvious visual symptoms. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t serious. Kids with ADHD find it harder to succeed in classes and form strong social connections with others. This puts them at a major disadvantage later in life, and can result in lifelong distress.
If you believe your child may have ADHD, or if you’re interested in learning more about the condition, consider talking to your pediatrician or child psychologist. Experts will be well-equipped with the most recent medical knowledge, which can help you better spot, analyze, and eventually address ADHD symptoms in your child.