Your child can’t focus, has emotional outbursts, and won’t stop fidgeting. Is it Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or just a case of poor discipline? That’s a tricky call, made trickier still by the fact that parents and physicians alike have been slow to accept ADHD as a legitimate psychological condition. Kids with ADHD have been fighting an uphill battle for proper recognition and treatment in the face of wild misconceptions—and parents are often the victims of these misconceptions. But when kids with ADHD have parents who know the facts, all involved have a better chance to thrive.
Here are the some of the most common myths surrounding ADHD, and how to debunk them:
Myth #1: ADHD Is Not Real
One of the more common tropes among ADHD naysayers is that the condition is simply the pathologization of modern childhood. And, yes, ADHD feels like a very modern condition. But the diagnosis was first proposed in 1902 by Sir George Frederick Still, a pediatrician who recognized patterns of hyperactivity and inattention in a small population of children. As science became more sophisticated, the diagnostic rubric for ADHD morphed into its present form. To be fair, it wasn’t until 2013 that the condition made it into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But to be even more fair, study after study confirmed its legitimacy as a mental health disorder long before that.
Myth #2: Only American Kids Get ADHD
“If ADHD is real, then why is it that only American children are diagnosed with it?” Solid argument—but false.
While it is true that American children technically have higher rates of ADHD diagnosis, that’s because American pediatricians use the term “ADHD”, in line with the DSM, and pediatricians abroad use other terms to describe the condition. Hot dogs aren’t strictly an American phenomenon just because Germans call the same thing wienerwurst. In fact, a paper in the journal World Psychiatry looked into some 50 studies worldwide linked to diagnoses similar to ADHD and found that “the prevalence of ADHD is at least as high in many non-U.S. children as in U.S. children.”
Myth #3: A Kid with ADHD will Always Struggle
On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who see kids with ADHD as hopeless cases who will struggle all of their lives with their disorder. Not only is this presumption false, it can be incredibly damaging for kids who internalize a sense of brokenness and resign themselves to a life of hardship.
The fact is that ADHD often comes with some pretty amazing gifts that have lead to great success for entrepreneurs and sports heroes who live with the disorder, including Richard Branson and Michael Phelps. Turns out there’s a place in the world for hyper-attentiveness, excess energy, and even risk-taking. Will every kid with ADHD become a balloon-flying, entrepreneur of a vast travel and entertainment brand? No. But they also aren’t destined for a life of crime or failure.
Myth #4: Only Boys Struggle With ADHD
It’s true that rates of ADHD diagnoses are higher for boys than girls. But that may be because girls are more adept at hiding their symptoms because they’ve been conditioned by society to appear sweet and docile, or because they are less likely to suffer from the substance abuse disorders that often lead to an ADHD diagnosis. In a word, there’s likely a bias in ADHD diagnosis towards boys. Girls can have ADHD, too—your doctor is just less likely to pick up on it.
Myth #5: Drugs are the Only Remedy for ADHD
Not every ADHD diagnosis means a Ritalin prescription. Studies are finding that many children benefit from behavioral and cognitive therapies, which help them develop skills to work with the symptoms of their disorder. For some kids, training in impulse control, structural supports like calendars, and even an increase in physical activity can help them manage their symptoms. For others, medication is the best choice. It really depends on the child.
Myth #6: ADHD Drugs are Overprescribed
Those who claim ADHD medications are overprescribed often point to the Ritalin boom of the 90s. But they completely disregard the fact that there were a ton of things happening to predicate that boom, including new diagnostic techniques and the government making ADHD treatment in children eligible for Medicaid coverage. So the Ritalin spike was less about over-prescribing and more about the fact that, after generations of struggling, kids with ADHD finally got help in the 90s. Proof that the spike was temporary? Rates of intervention via medication have since been relatively flat.
Myth #7: ADHD Drugs Are Linked To School Shootings
After a recent school shooting in Texas, incoming National Rifle Association president Oliver North blamed the carnage not on guns but—wait for it—Ritalin and other stimulant medications taken for ADHD. This is obviously ridiculous.
Not only do medications for ADHD help kids with impulse control, many studies have shown that kids taking ADHD medication are less likely to engage in criminal activity. It’s safe to say ADHD drugs are not linked to school shootings.