Thanks to brain imaging studies and other research, we know a lot about ADHD. But there are still many myths that cause confusion and make it hard for people with ADHD to get the support they need in school, at work, and in their communities.
Here’s the reality behind eight common myths about ADHD.
Myth #1: ADHD isn’t a real medical condition.
Fact: The National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Psychiatric Association all recognize ADHD as a medical condition. In fact, it's one of the most common conditions in childhood. Millions of kids and adults in the U.S. have it.
Research shows that ADHD is hereditary — one out of four people with ADHD have a parent with ADHD. And imaging studies show differences in brain development between people with ADHD and people who don’t have it.
If you have personal experience with ADHD, you know how real it is and how big an impact it can have on everyday living. Read how an expert, a parent, and a young adult respond to the question “Is ADHD real?”
ADHD fact sheetPDF
Myth #2: People with ADHD just need to try harder.
Fact: ADHD isn’t a problem of motivation or laziness. Kids and adults who have it are often trying as hard as they can to pay attention.
Telling people with ADHD to “just focus” is like asking someone who’s nearsighted to just see farther. The reason they struggle with attention has nothing to do with attitude. It's because of differences in the way their brain functions and how it’s structured.
Dive into a 28-minute primer with an ADHD expert to learn more.
Myth #3: People with ADHD can’t ever focus.
Fact: It's true that people with ADHD usually have trouble focusing. But if they’re very interested in something, they may focus on it intensely. It’s called hyperfocus.
Some kids with ADHD are easily distracted in class but can’t pull themselves away from a game they’re playing. Adults might have trouble focusing on the parts of work they find boring, but they pour themselves into aspects they really like.
Read an expert’s explanation of hyperfocus. And hear from a dad on how it’s challenging to keep his hyperfocused son safe.
Myth #4: All kids with ADHD are hyperactive.
Fact: The stereotype of kids with ADHD is that they race around and can’t stop moving. But not all kids with ADHD have hyperactivity as a symptom. And for those who do, hyperactivity usually goes away or lessens as they get older.
There are three types of ADHD. One doesn’t have an impact on activity levels at all. This type of ADHD is sometimes called ADD, and it mainly impacts attention.
Myth #5: Only boys have ADHD.
Fact: Boys are more than twice as likely as girls to be diagnosed with ADHD. But that doesn’t mean girls don’t have it. They’re just more likely to be overlooked and remain undiagnosed.
Part of the reason is that ADHD can look different in boys than in girls. Girls tend to have less trouble with hyperactivity and impulse control than boys do. They may seem more “daydreamy.”
Learn more about ADHD in girls and ADHD in boys. And read a personal story from a woman who worked so hard for perfect grades as a teen that her ADHD was overlooked.
Myth #6: ADHD is a learning disability.
Fact: ADHD isn’t a learning disability. ADHD symptoms can get in the way of learning, but they don’t cause difficulty in specific skills like reading, writing, and math. Some learning disabilities often co-occur with ADHD, however. That might contribute to this myth, too.
But just because ADHD isn’t a learning disability doesn’t mean kids can’t get help in school. And adults with ADHD can often get support at work, too.
Myth #7: Kids with ADHD will outgrow it.
Fact: Most kids don’t totally outgrow ADHD, although some symptoms can lessen or disappear as they get older. Symptoms may also change as kids get older and learn ways to manage them. But that’s not the same as outgrowing them. Most people with ADHD continue to have symptoms into adulthood.
Learn about how adults are diagnosed with ADHD. And if you think your child has ADHD, find out what you can do.
“ADHD does not come with a visible injury or something that people can see visually. Like a bandage or anything. So sometimes it’s easier for people to judge when they literally have no idea what they are talking about. ADHD is not caused by bad or lazy parenting. It is a neurobiological disorder. I wish more people would take the time to really get into what ADHD is before criticizing. Most of the time we are already hanging on by a thread! Be nice.” — adhdparent, on Instagram
Myth #8: ADHD is the result of bad parenting.
Fact: ADHD is caused by brain differences, not bad parenting. But some people see kids fidgeting, being impulsive, or not listening and assume it’s due to a lack of discipline. They don’t realize that what they’re seeing are signs of a medical condition, and not the result of something parents or caregivers did or didn’t do.
By understanding more about ADHD, you can help debunk myths others have. Learn what causes ADHD. And read some ADHD success stories.
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About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.
Bob Cunningham, EdM serves as executive director of learning development at Understood.