How You Should Not 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 inevitably encounter naysayers who simply do not understand the condition and its impact in everyday life.

Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about ADHD and these misunderstandings can be very hurtful to people living with ADHD. Some inaccurately render ADHD as a myth or a fraud—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 ADHD. It's so important to understand what not to say so you can be as supportive as possible to those living with ADHD.

What Not to Say to Someone With ADHD

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

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

3. "ADHD is too quickly and too frequently diagnosed."

These first faulty statements have 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" or that "we are too quick to diagnose a child who is simply active and energetic."

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.

4. "If you would just try a little harder, you would do better."

5. "You are just lazy."

6. "People use ADHD as an excuse for bad behavior."

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 can be beyond frustrating for those who don't fully understand the impairments associated with ADHD.

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 be of help in better managing symptoms.

7. "That child just needs more discipline."

8. "ADHD is caused by poor parenting."

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 disciple 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.

9. "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.

10. "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 and are at increased risk for cigarette smoking, alcohol/drug abuse, sexual promiscuity/pregnancy/STDs, self-injurious behaviors and overall lower self-esteem as 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.

Sharing Accurate Information on ADHD

The above myths and faulty statements that are so frequently spoken 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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