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. Know 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.

Don't Dismiss the Condition

It's important to avoid minimizing or even outright dismissing ADHD. Avoid saying things like, "ADHD isn't real," or "Why don't we just let kids be kids?"

Such statements deny 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."

Instead, realize that ADHD is a real condition with recognizable symptoms that affect a person's ability to function in different settings. It also affects many children and adults.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 6.1 million children are diagnosed with ADHD at some point before the age of 18.

Avoid Minimizing ADHD

Just as you shouldn't deny ADHD, you also should not attempt to minimize the symptoms. Avoid saying things such as "Everybody has a little ADHD," or "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.

Children with ADHD:

  • Have trouble organizing tasks
  • Does not pay attention when others speak to them
  • Does not follow through on instructions
  • Often lose things and are easily distracted
  • Struggle to sit still and remain quiet
  • Talk excessively

Such symptoms can create disruptions at school and at home.

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

Don't Suggest That ADHD Is Overdiagnosed

Avoid criticizing a child's diagnosis. Avoid making statements such as "ADHD is too quickly and frequently diagnosed."

You may hear people say that "we are too quick to diagnose a child who is simply active and energetic." The parents of the more than six million children who have been diagnosed with ADHD would likely disagree; their children's symptoms are real.

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.

Don't Criticize ADHD Symptoms

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.

Avoid making comments such as "People use ADHD as an excuse for bad behavior," or "They are just lazy and need to try harder."

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.

Don't Blame Parenting or Discipline

Unfortunately, many parents of children with ADHD have to deal with judgments around their parenting ability. It is simply not true that poor parenting or a lack of discipline in the home leads to ADHD. Never make comments such as ""ADHD is caused by poor parenting or lack of discipline."

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.

Don't Discriminate

Never make comments suggesting that people with ADHD get benefits or advantages that others don't. Avoid making statements like "Students with ADHD who receive special accommodations have unfair advantages."

If ADHD affects learning and impairs 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.

Avoid Making Comparisons

Never suggest that "ADHD in girls is less severe than ADHD in boys." It is a common misconception that girls and women with ADHD are less affected by their symptoms than men with ADHD.

The fact is women with ADHD experience significant struggles that are often overlooked. Women 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 women with ADHD had an increased risk of certain problems compared to their male counterparts:

Like undiagnosed boys and men with ADHD, undiagnosed girls and women are also at risk for chronic underachievement.

The difficulty mothers with ADHD face in 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

Inaccurate beliefs about ADHD 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 so that people with ADHD can enjoy an improved quality of life and fulfill their potetial.

9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data and statistics about ADHD.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms and diagnosis of ADHD.

  3. American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition. Arlington, VA., American Psychiatric Association, 2013.

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  5. Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) National Resource Center on ADHD. Workplace issues.

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  7. Quinn PO, Madhoo M. A review of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in women and girls: Uncovering this hidden diagnosis. Prim Care Companion CNS Disord. 2014;16(3). doi:10.4088/PCC.13r01596

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  9. Hinshaw SP, Owens EB, Zalecki C, et al. Prospective follow-up of girls with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder into early adulthood: Continuing impairment includes elevated risk for suicide attempts and self-injury. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2012;80(6):1041-1051. doi:10.1037/a0029451

By Keath Low
 Keath Low, MA, is a therapist and clinical scientist with the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at the University of North Carolina. She specializes in treatment of ADD/ADHD.