Let’s Talk….ADHD: Myth and Reality

It is all too easy to fall prey to the myths surrounding ADHD especially when professionals make public statements or write books perpetuating these myths. Myths, such as ‘ADHD does not exist, it is just down to bad parenting’ can be damaging to the public awareness and acceptance of this disorder. Understanding the neurology and psychology of ADHD can be beneficial both for people who have the disorder, and for everyone else around them. Neuro/psycho education reduces stigma and is found to help people with ADHD manage their symptoms better. So let’s look at some myths and realities surrounding ADHD.

Myth: ADHD is just BAD PARENTING!!!

I thought I should start with this one as I am sure like me this one plagues a lot of caregivers. I am a veteran of the bad looks, the shaking of heads, the eye rolls, and even abuse in another language. People make you feel that this all comes down to you, the parent: the one who cannot control your child, the one who lacks the ability to discipline and are too soft on your child. I have even been told that my child is manipulating me and that I need to be tougher: ‘It’s just bad parenting’ they said.

Reality: ADHD has nothing to do with ‘Bad Parenting’ and everything to do with neurology.

ADHD is a neurological brain disorder which means its symptoms are part of the brain’s chemical makeup. Poor impulse control and emotional dysregulation lead to reactive behaviours, such as lashing out, shouting or breaking things. The reward/punishment system does not work as the ADHD brain cannot change and modify behaviour based on the concept. Putting your child in a time out means you are expecting your child to focus and process their behaviour, something that they lack the ability to do. Therefore, being overly strict and over disciplining your ADHD child can make their symptoms worse. This may lead onto other mental health conditions (such as anxiety and depression) as your child feels unheard and abandoned, especially in their teenage years.  Having a positive relationship with your child makes a big difference to their development and happiness.

Myth: People who take ADHD medication will become drug abusers.

To medicate or not to medicate is a personal choice. Many parents opt out of the use of medication and find alternative ways to manage their child’s ADHD symptoms and that is fine. There is however a belief that that taking ADHD medication will build up a dependency over the long term and will eventually lead onto other forms of drug and alcohol abuse in the future.

Reality: People with ADHD benefit from taking ADHD medication.

ADHD has its biochemistry in the imbalances of three neurotransmitters: Dopamine, Serotonin and Noradrenalin. We are all familiar with Dopamine, the reward neurotransmitter, so I will talk about that. Research has found that Dopamine is low in people with ADHD, especially in the parts of the brain that deals with motivation and cognition. This plays a huge part in reward seeking behaviour . Sound familiar?  Taking stimulant medications helps to increase the dopamine re-uptake in the brain, which increases motivation and attention.  People who take ADHD medication describe the effect as having a ‘fog’ lifted. Studies show that many people who have untreated ADHD actually go on to abuse drugs and alcohol, simply as a form of self-medicating. The appropriately managed use of ADHD medication had shown to reduced the risk of drug and alcohol abuse, in adolescence and adulthood, research has found.

Myth: People with ADHD have no future.

It is not hard to fall prey to this myth. When you are faced with the tidal waves of emotional dysregulation, poor grades at the end of the year and the social isolation ADHD brings, it does beg the question: will my child have a future?  I remember watching my son and his peers working through a colouring book once and thinking, he will never colour inside those lines, leave alone draw a proper picture. Your child shows poor motivation for the tasks they dislike and most of those tasks involve schoolwork leaving you to wonder whether they will get the right education and all those much needed papers and grades to get ahead. Many people find that the child’s school gives up on the child and especially those that are undiagnosed get labelled as someone less likely to succeed.

Reality: Given the right opportunities, people with ADHD will shape the future.

Musicians, artists, athletes, scientists and even chefs have publicly celebrated their ADHD. It is rumoured that even Abraham Lincoln showed all the hallmarks of someone with ADHD. Given the right opportunities and surrounded by people with the right-mindset, a person with ADHD, will not only have a great future, but will create a great future. It is their ability to think outside the box and their enthusiasm and energy that will really make things happen.  My son not only colours inside the lines by the way, but draws and makes incredible models. His talent is outstanding. He is so creative and innovative in his thinking, that he constantly surprises me. If you find that special ability in your ADHD child, then nurture it. With the right attitude from the environment, around your child they will soar and have a great future.

Looking Ahead:

Debunking the myths surrounding ADHD is important in the understanding of the disorder and in its acceptance. Seek out the latest research and continuously question what you hear and read around this disorder. Social and emotional break-downs have a great impact on social exclusion and isolation. We know all too well, that feeling of being excluded from, schools, clubs, and afterschool activities (even though they claim to be neurodiverse friendly). We know what it feels like when your child is not invited anymore to those after school play-dates and when party invites, just don’t come anymore. Don’t underestimate your lived experience either as a parent/ caregiver or as person living with ADHD.  If you are one of those people that is not affected by ADHD, and you see a child having a major meltdown, or if your child has been affected by another child with ADHD, ask how you can help. Don’t isolate that parent further by putting it down to bad parenting, and write their child off. It doesn’t help when the world is misled by the constant negativity and myths surrounding ADHD.

Photo source: www.unsplash.com Gray concrete statue under blue sky by Alisa Maksimova

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