10 Common Myths About ADHD

By Amanda Morin
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There are a lot of myths about ADHD. You may hear all kinds of misconceptions that can make it hard to know what’s true and how best to support your child.

Knowing the facts can help you feel more confident in your parenting decisions. Here’s the reality behind 10 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.

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 kids who have ADHD and kids who don’t.

If your child has 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 Sheet
PDF

Myth #2: ADHD is the result of bad parenting.

Fact: It’s common for kids with ADHD to struggle with certain behaviors. But people who don’t know you or your child may attribute your child’s behavior to a lack of discipline. They don’t realize that your child’s inappropriate comments or constant fidgeting are signs of a medical condition, not of bad parenting.

“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 #3: Kids with ADHD just need to try harder to pay attention.

Fact: Kids with ADHD are often trying as hard as they can to pay attention—sometimes even harder than other kids. It’s not a problem of motivation or “laziness.”

Telling kids with ADHD to “just focus” is like asking someone who’s nearsighted to see farther when they’re not wearing glasses. Studies show there are differences in the pathways (or neural networks) in the brains of kids with ADHD. These networks can take longer to develop or may work less efficiently.

Dive into a 28-minute primer with an ADHD expert to learn more.

Myth #4: Kids with ADHD can’t ever focus.

Fact: Sometimes, kids who may be easily distracted can actually have trouble shifting focus away from a task they enjoy. Take, for example, a child who’s watching TV or playing with a favorite toy. In those cases, kids can be “hyperfocused” on what they’re doing.

Keep in mind that even when kids with ADHD are intensely focused, they’re not paying better attention than a child without ADHD. Read an expert’s explanation of hyperfocus. And hear from a dad on how it’s challenging to keep his hyperfocused son safe.

Myth #5: All kids with ADHD are hyperactive.

Fact: Not all kids with ADHD have hyperactivity or impulsivity as a symptom. There are three types of ADHD. One of them—ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Type (also known as ADD)—doesn’t have an impact on activity levels. Kids with this type of ADHD primarily have difficulty paying attention and are easily distracted.

Learn more about symptoms of ADHD.

Myth #6: Only boys have ADHD.

Fact: While it’s true boys are more than twice as likely as girls to be diagnosed with ADHD, that doesn’t mean girls don’t have ADHD. They’re just more likely to be overlooked and remain undiagnosed.

Attention issues can look different in boys than in girls. Girls with ADHD tend to have less difficulty with hyperactivity and impulse control than boys do. They may seem more “daydreamy.”

Learn more about ADHD in girls and ADHD in boys.

Myth #7: Girls with ADHD never experience hyperactivity.

Fact: When it comes to girls and ADHD, they do tend to have less trouble with hyperactivity than boys. But that doesn’t mean they don’t ever experience hyperactivity. It may just look different than it does in boys.

Girls may come across as hypersensitive or overly emotional. Teachers and parents may notice them interrupting conversations or being more chatty than other girls. People don’t often think of these behaviors as signs of ADHD, though. As a result, girls with ADHD can “fly under the radar.”

Read a personal story from a woman who worked so hard for perfect grades as a teen that her ADHD was overlooked.

Myth #8: Medication is the only way to treat ADHD.

Fact: While ADHD medication is the most effective treatment for about 80 percent of kids, it’s not the only one. Behavior therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are examples of other ADHD treatments.

There are other approaches that can be somewhat effective, too, especially when combined with medication and behavior therapy. That includes exercise and fish oil. Learn which alternatives to ADHD medication are backed by research. And explore questions to ask yourself if you’re considering ADHD medication as part of your child’s treatment plan.

Myth #9: ADHD is a learning disability.

Fact: ADHD is not a learning disability. But the key symptoms of ADHD can impact kids’ overall ability to learn. It’s not easy to do well in school if you’re having trouble with focus. A learning disability, on the other hand, causes difficulty in learning specific skills such as reading or math.

A number of learning disabilities can co-occur with ADHD. That might contribute to this myth, too.

But just because ADHD isn’t a learning disability doesn’t mean kids can’t receive help in school. Learn how a child with ADHD may be eligible for an IEP. And explore accommodations and a sample 504 plan for ADHD.

Myth #10: 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 will continue to have symptoms throughout adolescence and adulthood.

By understanding more about ADHD, you can help debunk myths others have. Get tips for talking to your child’s teacher about ADHD. And learn what to do next if you think your child may have ADHD.

About the Author

About the Author

Amanda Morin 

worked as a classroom teacher and as an early intervention specialist for 10 years. She is the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education. Two of her children have learning differences.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Bob Cunningham, EdM 

serves as executive director of learning development at Understood.

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