Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development. It is one of the most common mental conditions that affect both children and adults, yet it is widely misunderstood. For ADHD Awareness Month, we’ve highlighted some of the biggest myths around the disorder:
MYTH: ADHD doesn’t exist
FACT: The idea that ADHD doesn’t exist is particularly damaging as it diminishes the experiences of those living with the disorder. In reality, references to ADHD (and its precursor labels) appear in medical textbooks dating back to 1775. There are over 100,000 scientific journal articles that provide research and insight into the disorder. ADHD meets the defined explicit criteria for judging mental disorders. It involves serious deficiencies in attention and behavioural inhibition which can produce harm to the individual. Neuro-imaging research also reveals impaired functioning of the prefrontal cortex in people with ADHD.
MYTH: People with ADHD can’t concentrate
FACT: It is widely believed that people with ADHD simply can’t concentrate. Although it is true that distractibility is a prominent symptom, individuals with the disorder are able to concentrate when they are interested or intrigued by what they are doing. People with ADHD have a different mental and emotional system for evaluating what to do and when to do it – often prioritising tasks according to their emotional importance. This can result in moments of intense of concentration known as hyper-fixation where the individual can lose track of time and their surrounding environment for sustained periods of time.
MYTH: ADHD is just an excuse for laziness
FACT: ADHD can often look like a lack of willpower to do certain tasks or an excuse for laziness but this is not the case. Symptoms of ADHD are caused by certain chemical dynamics of the brain and aren’t controlled by the individual. Neural messages in the brain of someone with ADHD are often inefficiently transmitted. When a task or topic interests a person with ADHD, neural messages tend to be stronger which increases motivation. However, for tasks they do not perceive, either consciously or unconsciously, to be interesting, the neural messages tend to be weaker. If messages are not sufficient enough to activate a person, it is likely to make a them seem unmotivated or lazy.
MYTH: ADHD is the result of bad parenting
FACT: ADHD is not caused by a bad parenting style. This myth stems from observations that have linked misbehaviour with ADHD. Although misbehaviour in isolation may be a sign of poor parenting, there is no evidence that parenting plays a significant part in inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity that defines ADHD. Studies have shown that symptoms of ADHD are both genetically determined and caused by environmental risk factors. Most environmental risks occur early on in the development of the brain. For example, children who have complicated births or are exposed to harmful toxins are at a higher risk of developing ADHD. Similar to the genetic risks, the individual environmental risks have a very small effect on the probability of developing ADHD.
MYTH: Only boys have ADHD
FACT: According to the National Institute for Mental Health around 4.2% of girls have received a diagnosis of ADHD at some point in their life. However, boys are diagnosed two to three times as often as girls and are more likely to be diagnosed earlier on in life. This is likely because research into ADHD has traditionally been focused on boys and how symptoms such as hyperactivity present. Girls and women are less likely to present with hyperactive behaviours compared to boys and so inattentive behaviours can often be overlooked. Although research into ADHD in girls and women is increasing rapidly, we are still learning whether the numbers actually reflect incidence or whether rates of diagnosis for girls and women continue to be under reported.