This article was originally published on PsychCentral
Despite the fact that it’s so very common, misconceptions abound when it comes to what ADHD is (and what it isn’t).
In honor of October being ADHD Awareness month, let’s dispel some of the most common myths about ADHD.
Myth #1: ADHD isn’t a real medical condition.
Fact: ADHD is a neurodevelopmental (affecting brain development and functioning) condition recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), The American Psychiatric Association, and the National Institutes of Health, among others.
According to a 2016 report by the CDC, 11 percent of all children in the U.S., aged 4-17, were diagnosed with attention decit disorder (ADD or ADHD). That’s roughly 6.1 million children in the U.S. alone.
Myth #2: ADHD is caused by eating too much sugar, too much screen time, or bad parenting
Fact: There is no evidence that any of these factors cause ADHD.
People often assume that a hyperactive, impulsive, or fidgety child lacks discipline and just needs to “try harder” to pay attention. These challenges are the result of differences in brain structures and neural connectivity, not a lack of parental involvement or too much screen time.
While the exact cause of ADHD is not known, it seems to be largely genetic. One in four people diagnosed with ADHD also have a parent with ADHD.
Myth #3: If you can pay attention and/or aren’t hyperactive, you don’t have ADHD.
Fact: People with ADHD can, in fact, pay attention and aren’t necessarily bouncing off the walls.
Many mistakenly believe that if you have ADHD, you can’t pay attention… Ever. Parents are often mystified over the fact that their child can sit for hours playing Minecraft but can’t seem to tolerate even 20 minutes of homework. Challenges related to focus not only involve difficulty sustaining attention but also shifting attention from one thing to another and determining what’s important to pay attention to in a given situation.
Because the ADHD nervous system is wired to seek out stimulation, activities which are inherently more stimulating, interesting, or engaging for the individual with ADHD are generally easier for them to pay attention to. However, it’s important to remember that this is not under the person’s conscious control nor is it an avoidance tactic. Additionally, people with ADHD will often experience what is known as hyperfocus, or a state of intense concentration, that may be difficult to break.
When it comes to hyperactivity, particularly physical hyperactivity, not everyone with ADHD will struggle with restlessness, feeling fidgety, or an inability to sit still. However, many ADHDers experience a kind of mental hyperactivity which may involve random, racing thoughts and feeling mentally “scattered”.
Myth #4: Medication is the only way to treat ADHD
Fact: While medication can be a highly effective treatment for ADHD, it is by no means the only option.
Behavior therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) have been shown to be effective in the management of ADHD. There are also a number of alternative therapies and approaches available including dietary modifications, neurofeedback, and ADHD coaching, just to name a few.
It’s important to work with a medical or mental health professional who specializes in ADHD to explore possible treatment options and determine which is the best t for you or your child.
Myth #5: ADHD is just an excuse.
Fact: ADHD is not an excuse; it’s an explanation.
It’s an explanation for why you might have a hard time getting started and following through on projects and tasks; why you may feel scattered, unorganized, and spacey; why even seemingly simple tasks seem difficult and tedious; why you act impulsively or feel socially awkward; why you’re late for every appointment; and why you find yourself repeatedly forgetting where you left your keys or to pay your bills on time.
ADHD is a legitimate, lifelong medical condition that often has a tremendous impact on day-to-day functioning. The good new is, it CAN be managed successfully. If you have been diagnosed with or suspect that you struggle with ADHD, the best thing you can do is to educate yourself, and others, about ADHD and seek out professional help to guide you in learning how to manage your symptoms and starting living the life you want.
Reference: “Data and Statistics About ADHD.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27 Aug. 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html