Over the last 20 years, a big part of my job as a child psychologist has been to evaluate children’s cognitive, academic, and psychological functioning, and then meet with parents to review test findings.
During these feedback sessions, I explain why a child may or may not meet criteria for a specific diagnosis, like ADHD, and then provide specific recommendations and referrals. One of the hardest parts of some of these meetings is helping parents understand that their beliefs about ADHD are simply unfounded.
I get it, parents are not to blame. The cultural messages we receive about mental health diagnoses are painted in black and white terms (e.g., all people with dyslexia write backwards, people with autism can’t make eye contact, etc.). The problem with these simplifications is that developmental disorders, like ADHD and dyslexia, are complex. That’s why it’s so important for parents to get the correct information from specialists.
Here are the Top 5 Misconceptions I hear from parents about ADHD:
Misconception #1: Children with ADHD Cannot EVER Focus
I share this picture of my own son, who has ADHD, because earlier in his life, he had extreme difficulty focusing during homework and chores, yet he could focus exceptionally well when playing the guitar.
- Children with ADHD can hyperfocus on their areas of interest better than most people. However, they have more difficulty shifting attention away from interests than the rest of us. So, if they’re doing something they love, like playing a musical instrument, they can get lost in the activity for long stretches of time.
- People with ADHD have much more difficulty focusing during mundane tasks, like chores, than the rest of us. One reason for this is because people with ADHD have an imbalance in neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine, which regulate their ability to respond consistently to incoming stimuli.
- Kids with ADHD are also drawn to activities that give instant feedback. That’s why many love playing video games and watching YouTube videos.
It’s also important to remember that kids with ADHD are often highly creative individuals who can focus on their strengths, like music, art, dance, karate or theater. This is a real blessing. We need our artists and out-of-the-box thinkers. Check out this article about famous folks with ADHD: Famous People With ADHD.
Misconception #2: All Kids with ADHD are Hyperactive
In fact, there are 3 different subtypes of ADHD. The child in this picture could easily have a type of ADHD referred to as Predominately Inattentive Presentation. We’d never know.
Here are the 3 Subtypes of ADHD:
- Kids with ADHD, Combined Presentation have significant challenges with hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention.
- Kids with ADHD, Hyperactive/ Impulsive Presentation have significant challenges with hyperactivity and impulsivity, but focus fine.
- Last but not least, kids with ADHD, Predominately Inattentive Presentation have normal activity levels, yet extreme difficulty focusing. Despite strong skills in certain areas, they often have extreme difficulty completing homework, keep track of things, following directions, and approaching tasks that require higher levels of organization, like cleaning their rooms. These are the kids who often go undiagnosed for years because they aren’t disruptive. Sadly, untreated ADHD, Predominately Inattentive Type often leads to low confidence and anxiety.
- Many times, kids with ADHD, Predominately Inattentive Type appear like they’re paying attention (e.g., they’re looking straight at you, even nodding along), and yet they aren’t tracking what you are saying or doing. That’s why, as parents, it’s helpful to your child if you check in with them and kindly ask them to repeat back instructions.
Misconception #3: If we talk openly with our child about ADHD, they’ll use their diagnosis as an excuse to avoid responsibilities.
When a child receives a diagnosis of any kind, such as ADHD, it’s hard to know how to talk with them about it. We don’t want our child to feel badly or different than others. Many parents are also concerned that their child will play the “I can’t, I have ADHD” card as an excuse.
Here’s what I’ve learned over the years: Kids who are well-informed about their ADHD diagnosis do way better than kids who have no idea why seemingly simple things, like cleaning their bedrooms, completing a page of homework, or keeping their mouths shut in class are so challenging for them.
Kids with ADHD are smart. They know they’re different. So, if we leave them in the dark, they will start filling in the gaps with faulty information like:
- I can’t clean my room because I’m lazy.
- I walked through the house with muddy shoes because I must not care.
- I don’t get good grades because I’m stupid.
This is why children with ADHD should learn about their diagnosis. Then they can address their symptoms and build upon their strengths.
Misconception #4: If I medicate my child, they will never learn to manage their symptoms
I understand this logic. As parents, we want our children to learn strategies to manage their challenges. But if we use this logic, how is medicating a child with ADHD any different than medicating a child with diabetes who needs insulin? Sure, we should still teach the diabetic child healthy ways to manage her diabetes, like avoiding excess sugar, but we wouldn’t do this in place of insulin, if needed.
Why would we assume that medicating a child with ADHD is any different? ADHD is a neurological disorder that impacts the brain chemically and structurally. About 70 percent of kids who take ADHD medication have clinically significant benefits. However, the combination of medication and or supplements, such as fish oil, with environmental supports, like individual therapy, parent guidance, exercise, diet, and added school help has been found to be the most effective. My friend, fellow blogger, teacher, and ADHD parent, Beth Grushkin, knows a ton about healthy ways to target ADHD symptoms, and what foods to avoid.
Misconception #5: Kids usually grow out of ADHD
While we used to believe that kids outgrew ADHD, over the last few years, researchers have learned that this isn’t the case, at least for many people with ADHD. The way I explain it to parents is that ADHD changes over time, but it’s rarely outgrown. For example, while kids with ADHD, Combined and Hyperactive/ Impulsive Presentations are often less hyperactive and impulsive by middle or high school, they’re often pretty fidgety as adults.
Here’s a great article about the neurological differences in children and adults with ADHD in comparison to neurotypicals folks. For example, the author references studies in which nearly all participants who had been previously diagnosed with ADHD showed reduced brain volume and poorer memory function in comparison to the control group: Children May Not Actually ‘Grow Out’ Of ADHD After All.
That’s why testing can be particularly helpful for both children and adults who have symptoms of ADHD. One of the biggest benefits of testing is that it helps people identify their strengths and challenges and develop specific plans on how to get the support they need. Here’s a blog I wrote about neuropsychological testing for ADHD if you’re interested: 5 Reasons to Consider Neuropsychological Testing for Your Child.
Wrapping It Up
In closing, just remember that ADHD is a mixture of creativity and chaos that brings blessings and challenges, but isn’t that life? Also, if you are feeling stressed out, worried or overwhelmed, reach out for support! Never worry alone, as Dr. Edward Hallowell, author of many best-selling books, such as Driven to Distraction, likes to say.
If you are interested in working with me in particular, check out the services I offer on my website: Work With Me
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Blessings to you,