How Not to Speak to Someone With ADHD

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If you, your child, or your spouse/partner has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you may encounter naysayers who simply do not understand the condition and its impact on everyday life.

Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about ADHD, and these misunderstandings can be very hurtful to people living with it. Some people inaccurately believe ADHD is a "made up" disorder which is over-diagnosed and over-medicated. Others perceive ADHD as a benign, inconsequential condition that is easily managed with good parenting and disappears as a child moves into adulthood.

Whether you are the parent of a child with ADHD, the partner or spouse of someone with ADHD, or have ADHD yourself, you have likely heard some (or all) of the following faulty and provoking statements about the condition.

What Not to Say to Someone With ADHD

It's so important to understand what not to say so you can be as supportive as possible to those living with ADHD, or those with loved ones living with ADHD. Here are some common phrases to avoid, and why.

"ADHD isn't real. Why don't we just let kids be kids?"

This faulty statement has to do with the validity of ADHD as a real condition. Friends may innocently claim to have had an "ADD moment" or to have "a little bit of ADHD." You may hear people complain that "we don't let kids be kids anymore."

"Everybody has a little ADHD. It isn't a big deal."

Certainly everyone experiences occasions of forgetfulness and inattention. And what parent hasn't experienced their child's behaviors veering out of control? These are normal occurrences. For children and adults with ADHD, however, these are more than an occasional problem.

For someone with ADHD, symptoms are present at such intensity that they significantly impair day-to-day life.

"ADHD is too quickly and too frequently diagnosed."

You may hear people say that "we are too quick to diagnose a child who is simply active and energetic." Yet the parents of the more than six million children between the ages of 2 and 17 who have been diagnosed with ADHD would likely disagree.

A proper ADHD diagnosis can be key to getting help for your loved one. If left undiagnosed, ADHD can lead to academic, behavioral, emotional, social, and vocational problems later in life.

"People use ADHD as an excuse for bad behavior. They are just lazy and need to try harder."

Sometimes people make the inaccurate assumption that if a child or adult with ADHD would just "try harder," they could be more successful. This can lead the person with ADHD to be labeled in negative ways.

To add fuel to this fire, it is common for someone with ADHD to show fairly dramatic fluctuations and inconsistencies in their performance. It can be puzzling to others when someone is able to complete tasks quickly and correctly at times, while at other times they perform these same tasks quite poorly.

This uneven pattern of productivity and accuracy is common for someone with ADHD, and it can be beyond frustrating for those who don't fully understand the impairments associated with the disorder. The truth is that people with ADHD exert a tremendous amount of energy and effort just trying to organize, focus, and keep themselves on track.

ADHD is never an excuse for behavior, but it is often an explanation that can guide you toward strategies and interventions that can help better manage symptoms.

"ADHD is caused by poor parenting or lack of discipline."

Unfortunately, many parents of children with ADHD have to deal with these types of judgments around their parenting ability. It is simply not true that poor parenting or a lack of discipline in the home leads to ADHD.

It is true that children with ADHD can be much more challenging to parent. It's easy to become frustrated and doubt your own parenting skills when you have a child with ADHD, especially when these misperceptions around the causes of ADHD exist.

ADHD is a neurobiological condition that is primarily caused by genetics. Certainly, a person's environment can have an influence on the expression of ADHD. Both children and adults with ADHD benefit from structure, routines, and behavioral interventions.

"Students with ADHD who receive special accommodations have unfair advantages."

If ADHD is affecting learning and impairing academic performance in the classroom, a student may receive instructional support and accommodations. The purpose of such special accommodations is to ensure that the individual educational needs of the student with disabilities are met as adequately as the needs of those students without disabilities.

Rather than giving an unfair advantage to students with ADHD, special accommodations level the playing field.

"ADHD in females is less severe than ADHD in males."

It is a common misconception that girls and women with ADHD are less affected by their symptoms than males with ADHD. The fact is females with ADHD experience significant struggles that are often overlooked. Females with ADHD are often misdiagnosed as having depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.

Girls with unrecognized, untreated ADHD tend to internalize problems to a much greater degree. Research has also shown that some females with ADHD had increased risk of cigarette smoking, overall lower self-esteem, and more self-injurious behaviors compared to their male counterparts. Like undiagnosed males with ADHD, undiagnosed females are also at risk for chronic underachievement.

The difficulty mothers with ADHD face coping with the demands of everyday life can easily overflow into parenting. Because of the genetic link to ADHD, many of these mothers will be parenting children with ADHD—children who require even more in terms of organization, attention, and consistency.

A Word From Verywell

Faulty statements like these are especially harmful because these inaccurate beliefs often prevent parents of children with ADHD and adults with ADHD from seeking treatment. Without appropriate interventions and supports, many continue to struggle needlessly. It is important to correct these misconceptions.

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