ADHD myths and truths
ADHD in children was for a long time under-recognised, misunderstood and misdiagnosed. Thankfully, times have changed, however, there are still many who do not recognise Adult ADHD as a real medical condition and this causes untold problems for adults who cannot gain proper diagnosis and treatment and for their families, friends, colleagues and wider communities. Here we try to explain the truth behind some of the myths surrounding ADHD.
ADHD is just being lazy and lacking willpower or simply a behavioural problem in naughty children. It isn’t a real medical condition.
It is true that people with ADHD can focus on things that they are very interested in or things that are new and exciting. Sometimes they describe ‘hyperfocus’ where they can lose themselves in a task they are absorbed in. ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is therefore badly named, in that it is not a complete lack of attention. It is a disorder of attention driven by a biological problem in the brain.
ADHD causes an inability to focus and get down to work on tasks that are mundane, repetitive, boring or require a greater degree of mental effort. People with ADHD are unable to consistently or for any prolonged period of time ‘just try harder’. This could be despite them recognizing the task as important, and despite them very much wanting to succeed. However, this may change when they are under pressure at the last minute, when the stress of not completing the task is immediate and severe.
ADHD isn't a serious disorder that can really damage your life
Untreated or inadequately treated ADHD can severely affect learning, working life, domestic life, relationships and social life. Many people with ADHD can function extremely well, but there are many people with ADHD who struggle to cope with life. ADHD is associated with lower levels of educational achievement and lower levels of employment with a history of frequent job changes. Studies of people with ADHD have shown they are significantly more likely to have been arrested and twice as likely to be divorced, as well as being less satisfied with their family, social and professional lives. ADHD is also associated with an increase in serious road traffic accidents.
You can’t have ADHD as an adult if you were not diagnosed with it as a child
TRUTH: Symptoms of ADHD should be present from age 12 for a diagnosis in adulthood to be made, according to official criteria. This does not mean that an official diagnosis of ADHD in childhood is needed. It requires some symptoms to have been present but these may not have been severe enough to warrant a label of ADHD.
ADHD can be more impairing and noticeable in adolescence and young adulthood than childhood. This is particularly true with the more complex demands of higher education and adult life, and with the loss of the routine and support of school and home life.
This is when the first signs of ADHD can start to show. ADHD impairments can be first noticed in teenage years, when more independent study and work is needed. Many adults with ADHD describe struggling since teenage years and may not have received help as it was assumed that their long standing difficulties were caused by laziness, a bad attitude or a lack of motivation.
You can’t have ADHD if you are not hyperactive
ADHD can present with or without symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity. People often call the type of ADHD without hyperactivity ‘ADD’, or ‘Attention Deficit Disorder’. Hyperactive and impulsive symptoms can occur in people of all ages, however, it is often the case that if children with ADHD do ‘grow out of’ any of the symptoms of ADHD, it will be the hyperactive and impulsive symptoms. Usually, symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder - such as not being able to concentrate and being disorganised – become more significant in adulthood as life gets more challenging and one is supposed to be able to cope more independently.
We all have some symptoms of ADHD. If you are clever or hard working enough you can overcome them.
It is true that many of the symptoms of ADHD are experienced sometimes by all people. However, one of the characteristics that makes someone warrant a diagnosis of ADHD is if the problems it causes are present all the time, long term and to such a severe extent that it makes it hard to function in life. ADHD affects people at all levels of intelligence. Certainly, being clever will help you compensate for the symptoms to a degree or might make you more able to access help and support.
The term ‘ADHD’ suggests this disorder is just about ‘attention deficit’ ie poor concentration as well as ‘hyperactivity’ ie being fidgety or restless, however, ADHD causes wider difficulties. These do not just concern the ability to sustain focus, they also affect organizational skills, being able to prioritize and manage time, being able to get started on work, as well as being able to see tasks through. Being able to shift your attention to a new topic and then get back to the original task is difficult. Memory, recall and often motivation may be poor. In addition, people with ADHD often find it difficult to manage their emotions and are easily angered.
Even if you are clever or hard working, you are unable to ‘just try harder’ and overcome this array of difficulties, which can make it very hard to cope with life.
Only boys have ADHD. It is rare in girls. If girls do have attention problems then they have ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) as girls never experience hyperactivity.
Girls and women can suffer from hyperactive and impulsive symptoms as well as from symptoms of inattention, just like boys and men, so both boys and girls can suffer from ADHD and ADD. It used to be thought that ADHD was more common in boys than girls, but it was often missed in girls, especially in those who have ADD or those that were not overly disruptive.If a person is very intelligent or well supported, symptoms of inattention, such as being disorganised and not concentrating well, can be covered up, particularly early in life. Some girls (and sometimes boys) unknowingly compensate for ADHD by working much longer hours to get homework done than their peers, if they suffer from ADHD.
ADHD is something you grow out of as you reach adulthood.
Rather than ADHD symptoms getting better as a person reaches adulthood, they can get worse and it can be the first time that the symptoms have been noticed as a problem. As young people reach adulthood, life is more complex and expectations are often greater. Yet the support and supervision that was available when younger may be reduced or lost, making it harder to cope. It is now recognised that ADHD is a 'lifespan disorder' meaning it can continue throughout life - although symptoms may reduce or increase across the decades.
Many adults will have struggled all their lives with symptoms of ADHD which were not identified as part of the disorder. They may not have received extra help as it may have been wrongly assumed this was just down to 'being lazy' and not trying hard enough.
I’ve been diagnosed with dyslexia, anxiety and depression so I am told that I can’t suffer from ADHD as well.
Research has highlighted that adult ADHD often occurs alongside other mental disorders. In fact, a person with ADHD is six times more likely to have another psychiatric disorder or learning disorder than someone without ADHD.
It is not uncommon that treatment may be provided for other disorders and not for ADHD. Alternatively, ADHD may not be recognised, as the assumption is that the difficulties are due to the other condition. ADHD symptoms overlap with those of anxiety, depression, autism spectrum disorders, dyslexia, dyspraxia, substance misuse or personality disorder. Autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger’s Syndrome, frequently occur alongside ADHD.
Research has shown that 41% of children with an autistic spectrum disorder had suspected ADHD. In addition, 22% of those with suspected ADHD also had signs suggesting they also suffered from an autistic spectrum disorder. There is likely to be a genetic link between the two, causing autistic and ADHD traits to often occur together.
The brains of people with ADHD are overactive and need medication to calm them down, so taking stimulants doesn’t make sense. Stimulants might cause long term problems with illegal drug use or other health problems.
TRUTH:<br/>Stimulants for ADHD are among the best researched for any disorder and have been used for decades. One of the problems in ADHD is underactivity of certain parts of the brain. Research has shown that dopamine is a key brain chemical involved in ADHD and boosting this is one of the ways that the drugs work.
The improvements caused by medicines for ADHD only last as long as the medication is active in the body and 80-90% of people with ADHD may benefit from treatment. Their use of the stimulant drugs for ADHD can be flexible, allowing them to have a break from taking the drug when they don’t need it.
All medication, even paracetamol, has potential side effects but if it is carefully and thoughtfully managed, ADHD medication is often used without problems. It is recognised that there is an association, for some people, between the disorder of ADHD and illegal drug use. However, it is not the medication treating ADHD that causes this link.
Where ADHD can affect people
ADHD can affect adults in many, and sometimes all, of their daily activities and interactions with other people. Here we identify some of the places and behaviour traits that are most commonly highlighted by adult ADHD patients and their partners, families and friends.