Archive for May 2017

Blogging Against Ableism: Dispelling ADHD Misconceptions   1 comment

This post is part of the Blogging Against Disablism initiative for 2017. Ableism is the North American term, and so that is what I use. Ableism/Disablism is discrimination and prejudice against people who have disabilities.

I spend a lot of time spreading accurate information about ADHD to people who have it or who think they might have it. Unfortunately, many times they come to me with comments their parents, teachers, and even doctors have made about ADHD. Comments that are not only inaccurate but ableist at their very heart. This post is going to list some of the most common misconceptions ADHDers deal with on a regular basis, and I am going to try and explain why they are incorrect and how they are ableist assumptions. I asked the question in a couple of places, and these are the things people named as the things that bother them the most. Thanks to everyone who answered my question. You can see all the responses in the notes on this post on Tumblr. (I’ve combined and adjusted and reworded.)


Misconception: ADHDers just need to try harder; it’s all about will power; you’re just lazy!

Reality: Based on my own experience and the messages I get from teens and young adults (and even some people my own age), we ADHDers are always trying harder than anyone else to do what we need to do. If being able to do things the way we want to do was just about will power, we would be able to change the world! …Instead, we have brilliant ideas and lack the ability to plan or enact a plan to make those ideas happen. Lazy isn’t a word I’d ever use to describe anyone with a disability, either. There’s a reason why one of the seminal books about adult ADHD is called You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?!?

Why this attitude is damaging: Continually being told that you aren’t meeting your potential and being blamed for your failings as if you are morally corrupt or something takes a huge toll on your self-esteem. It’s not a coincidence that most ADHDers also suffer from something called rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD), which is basically intense fear of criticism that results in a lot of self-flagellation and negative self-talk.


Misconception: ADHD is all about not being able to pay attention to anything; if you can pay attention to one thing for any length of time, you don’t have ADHD!

Reality: The term “attention deficit” is actually a misnomer; I prefer “Variable Attention Span” when talking about this aspect of ADHD. In essence, we can hyperfocus (focus for a really long time) on things, but we don’t always have a lot of control over what we’re focusing on. Hyperfocus usually latches onto something we find really interesting or rewarding, so either a special interest or something like a video game. I used to hyperfocus on reading (still do, if I give myself half a chance; words are fascinating).

Why this attitude is damaging: While distraction is part and parcel of having ADHD, it’s really important to recognize that we don’t have a lot of control over most of the things that characterize it. On top of this, assuming that ADHD means a complete inability to focus on anything results in people not being diagnosed when they are younger, hence missing out on a lot of years of treatment that could have been really beneficial to them.


Misconception: ADHDers are all extroverted class clowns; ADHD always means hyperactivity!

Reality: There are three types of ADHD, and only two of them include hyperactive and impulsive symptoms. Just as many ADHDers are introverts as non-ADHDers, too. On top of that, a lot of us have anxiety disorders that make us clam up in social situations.

Why this attitude is damaging: Assuming that only people who are always up and down and chatting with people around them can have ADHD means that people who have Inattentive ADHD go undetected and untreated.


Misconception: ADHD is something only little white boys are diagnosed with!

Reality: ADHD rates in adulthood are the same between genders. Symptoms are also shown at the same rate in people of colour as in white people. What this means is that women are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder (etc.) than ADHD (these are also all common comorbid disorders), and it means that people who are not white often end up getting labelled as “bad kids”—and since people tend to live up to (or down to) your expectations, they end up in jail.

Why this attitude is damaging: Well, I kind of explained this above. It all leads to misdiagnosis, underdiagnosis, mistreatment, etc.


Misconception: ADHD is only a thing for children; if you’re an adult you can’t have it; if you aren’t caught in childhood there’s no way you can have it as an adult!

Reality: ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder. This means that it begins in childhood (likely from birth) and is caused by the way the brain develops. The ADHD brain tends to lag behind by about three years. You see where I’m going with this, right? If it’s about brain development, how on earth could it possibly just magically disappear when we reach adulthood?!?

Why this attitude is damaging: Given everything above about the stereotypes regarding what ADHD is, there are lots of people who don’t get diagnosed in childhood. Refusing to assess adults because of this kind of prejudice just means more struggling and more depression… and more suicide.


Misconception: ADHD isn’t real and if you just do [X faddy thing] you’ll be fine!

Reality: Plenty of studies have shown that the ADHD brain is physically different from the non-ADHD brain. A healthy diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and low stress levels all have a positive effect on the brain, regardless of whether or not you have ADHD; however, an ADHD brain will never function the way a non-ADHD brain does, no matter the diet, the exercise, the sleep, etc. Because it’s a physical difference.

Why this attitude is damaging: Thinking that ADHD isn’t real means that people don’t get assessed. Pushing unnecessary lifestyle changes as a “fix” can hurt people’s health and just adds to the implication that we are morally deficient.


Misconception: Taking medication for ADHD is a cop-out!

Reality: Medication is a tool that can be incredibly useful for managing the symptoms of ADHD. There is absolutely no shame in making use of all of the tools available to us in order to have a good quality of life.

Why this attitude is damaging: This attitude makes people refuse to use important tools that can be helpful in their lives. It causes parents to refuse to do everything that they can to help their children succeed in life. It causes people who do rely on medication to feel like they are failing. How is this beneficial?


Misconception: ADHDers shouldn’t have caffeine/sugar, it will just make things worse!

Reality: Caffeine affects some ADHDers by making them more hyper or waking us up, but others have no effects from it and the rest of us find that it helps with our symptoms and/or puts us to sleep! As for sugar, the brain runs on sugar. This means that sugar can help wake it up. Refined sugar is accessed much more quickly and burns out really fast as well, which is why some people seem to become hyperactive after having it: the sugar wakes up the brain and gets it running pretty quickly. The unfortunate part is that there’s often a big crash after it burns out.

Why this attitude is damaging: For people who cannot access medication but find benefit from caffeine, being told to avoid it can be really unhelpful. In addition, because the brain does run on sugar, it’s important to make sure your diet includes some sugars—just not necessarily too much refined sugar.


Misconception: ADHD meds will fix everything so that ADHDers don’t have any problems anymore!

Reality: Medication helps with symptoms, it’s true; however, it’s difficult to find the right medication and the right dose. It’s also quite common to find medication that helps with some symptoms but not all of them. I have found that my executive dysfunction in particular is not affected by medication (I keep holding out hope), meaning that while medication helps me curb my fidgeting and my impulsive behaviour, and even my inattention, it has yet to help me with initiation and inertia. On top of that, it’s important to remember that someone who has ADHD may well not have the skills we need for particular things in life, and medication doesn’t magically impart that knowledge.

Why this attitude is damaging: This attitude means that ADHDers may give up on medication altogether even if it helps in some very big ways. It also means even more shaming and moral judgments on us when we don’t know how to do something that “everyone” knows.


Misconception: ADHDers always do poorly in school and aren’t very smart!

Reality: IQ distribution in ADHD is the same as in the general population. When ADHDers do poorly in school, it is typically because of executive dysfunction—leaving assignments until the last minute, losing papers, forgetting things—or poor working memory—leading to low grades on quizzes and exams—rather than a lack of smarts. It’s quite common for ADHDers to be told that they aren’t working up to their potential.

Why this attitude is damaging: When you’re repeatedly told that you could do better if you tried harder, and you are already trying your hardest and still failing, you start to feel like a complete failure. There is obviously something wrong with you, if you can’t grasp something that is so easy for other people, or if you aren’t achieving what you’re capable of. Usually that something is a lack of work ethic or laziness, something morally wrong. See the first misconception for information on that.


I really wish people would spend a little time learning about ADHD and what it really is, instead of spouting these ridiculous, damaging things. There are so many ways in which ADHDers can be amazing additions to your life. Please do your part to help us do that. We are people, and we deserve respect. Yes, even when we aren’t meeting whatever standards you’ve set for us.

Society needs an attitude adjustment.