Myths and Misinformation — How to Deal With Doubters and Deniers
Sometimes when we tell people we have ADHD, we can encounter misunderstandings, doubts, and even denials. Many people unfamiliar with the condition might think they know what it is, but in fact have a misconception about it.
More seriously, we can experience not being believed when we say we have it, or people doubting the condition is even real.
How many of these responses to "I have ADHD" have you heard?
"We all have ADHD sometimes. Everyone's a little bit ADHD."
"ADHD is overdiagnosed and overmedicated."
"You just need to try harder."
"It's an excuse for bad behaviour."
"It's caused by bad parenting."
"ADHD isn't real."
It's important to remember that none of these statements are true. Here are some truths behind the myths.
"We all have ADHD sometimes. Everyone's a little bit ADHD"
These statements are sometimes used by a well-meaning person trying to make you feel more "normal", but they actually belittle the condition and imply that it isn't a big deal. While it's true that many ADHD symptoms are things that occasionally happen to everyone (forgetting things, spacing out), ADHD means that these things happen almost all the time, with a significantly impairing effect on many areas of our lives.
Saying that we all have ADHD sometimes is like saying to someone who is seven feet tall that "everyone's tall sometimes," because we're all taller than the ground.
"ADHD is overdiagnosed and overmedicated"
The evidence is mixed when it comes to overdiagnosis of ADHD. Some studies suggest it is, whilst others suggest it isn't. Certainly the rate of diagnosis has increased, but this is mostly due to the fact that awareness and research surrounding the condition has improved; people were simply "flying under the radar" before.
Diagnosis rates seem to vary due to many factors including socio-economic status, culture, race, and gender. For example, it appears to be overdiagnosed in male children and underdiagnosed in females of any age. Minority groups and people of low socio-economic status from any race or ethnicity are also underdiagnosed.
Regardless, the perception of overdiagnosis is that doctors are slapping labels on people so they can ply them with medication. This is wildly inaccurate.
Medication may not be appropriate in some instances, and treating with medication only is also not very effective. However, as part of a holistic treatment approach, medication remains significantly beneficial for ADHD.
"You just need to try harder / it's an excuse for bad behaviour"
It can be puzzling to others when we're sometimes able to complete tasks quickly and correctly, while other times we perform these same tasks badly. This uneven pattern is very common with ADHD, and it doesn't mean we're lazy or bad.
The truth is that we exert a tremendous amount of energy and effort just trying to organise, focus and keep ourselves on track, so "just try harder" isn't really an option because we are already exerting far more effort than the average neurotypical!
ADHD is also not an excuse, rather it's an explanation for why certain things are often challenging. It's also an opportunity to try different strategies that will help us better manage these challenging situations next time.
"It's caused by bad parenting / ADHD isn't real"
ADHD is mostly caused by genetics, and is a real, neurobiological condition recognised by major medical organisations throughout the world. It's true that ADHD children are often much more challenging to parent—I know I certainly was—and children with ADHD have a higher likelihood of comorbid conditions such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder.
This doesn't mean that someone with ADHD should have been disciplined more harshly. In fact, this is almost always an approach that will worsen things.
Whatever you encounter from others, it's important to remember that ADHD is not just occasional forgetfulness, a result of not trying hard enough, caused by bad parenting, or not even real. It is, in fact, an executive function impairment that takes monumental effort on a daily basis to deal with. The fact you have managed to get this far in life shows how strong and capable you really are.