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It’s time to talk about reducing the stigma around ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that affects around 1 in 20 children in the UK and often begins in early childhood.

This condition usually involves difficulties with inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness, such as difficulties with sitting still, being easily distracted and frequently interrupting others.

Neurodevelopmental conditions affect around 1 in 10 children and ADHD is the most common of these, yet one of the most poorly understood by the general public.

This can often lead to affected children being mislabelled as ‘naughty’ or ‘troublesome’ and in many cases, missing out on appropriate support and treatment.

ADHD difficulties also often persist into adulthood which can cause trouble with relationships and employment.

There are many misconceptions about ADHD, which have the potential to create negative implications for many children and young people’s mental health.

It is now more important than ever to raise awareness of this condition, eliminate the stigma surrounding ADHD and give children and young people the timely care and support that they need.

Some common mistaken myths about ADHD

Many of the symptoms associated with ADHD make it very difficult for children to pay attention to a task.

In addition to this, being restless, fidgety or impulsive may lead to distracting behaviours that disrupt classes.

This can lead to having constant negative feedback from teachers, parents and peers, which can result in low self-esteem and pessimistic beliefs about their ability to achieve.

Therefore, it is essential that we, as a society, gain a better understanding of what it means to have ADHD and debunk some of the misconceptions that people have about this condition.

So, what are these myths?

  • Myth 1: Children with ADHD can never focus

    Whilst children with ADHD often find it difficult to focus, they are sometimes able to ‘hyper-focus’, which is an intense form of concentration.

    This may even make it harder for them to pull themselves away from a task that fascinates them!

  • Myth 2: All children with ADHD are hyperactive

    Hyperactivity symptoms are some of the most recognised symptoms in children with ADHD, however not all children will have these symptoms.

    In fact, a subtype of ADHD known as ADD (attention deficit disorder) is characterised by difficulties with attention regulation and few difficulties with hyperactivity and impulsivity.

  • Myth 3: ADHD is caused by bad parenting

Quite often, parents may be blamed by others for their child’s behaviour due to assumptions such as giving the child a lack of discipline for their actions.

This is untrue as ADHD is a medical brain-based condition, in which children struggle to control impulsive behaviour or regulate their attention; in fact, constantly punishing a child with these symptoms may lead to more problems in future.

There is also a lot of evidence that ADHD runs in families and that genetic factors play a very important role in causing ADHD.

a young child sits on adult's shoulder against white backdrop

  • Myth 4: People with ADHD ‘don’t try hard enough’

    Many people who see children exhibiting behaviours associated with ADHD may assume that these children ‘aren’t trying hard enough’ to behave and concentrate.

    This often proves to be very challenging for these individuals as their symptoms can present in behaviours linked to disinterest, low motivation and disorganisation.

    The actual truth is that most of these children really want to work and complete tasks as well as others, but even simple tasks can prove as a much tougher challenge for them.

  • Myth 5: Girls don’t get ADHD

    ADHD is much more commonly diagnosed in boys compared to girls, however, some people believe that this condition is only shown by boys, which is not accurate.

    ADHD is believed to be less recognised in girls, partly because their behaviour as children may be less hyperactive and less likely to be associated with disruptive behaviour, meaning that their other ADHD symptoms can go unnoticed.

    Also, the symptoms used to diagnose ADHD may be better at picking up difficulties in boys than girls.

    For these reasons, girls tend to have their ADHD recognised later than boys or in some cases, not recognised at all.

  • Myth 6: All children eventually grow out of ADHD

    While it is true that ADHD symptoms can change over time or even diminish during adolescence or adulthood, many people do not outgrow it.

    In most cases, children with ADHD grow up to be adults with ADHD and their difficulties can be life-long.

    In addition, many children with ADHD may not be diagnosed until later on in life – this is more often the case when the child or young person may have predominantly inattentive symptoms.

    Despite this, there are many ways children and young people who are able to work around their difficulties and focus on their strengths.

  • Myth 7: ADHD is an ‘over-diagnosed’ condition

    Some people think that ADHD is being over-diagnosed and over-treated as the number of people diagnosed has increased in recent years.

    However, there is new evidence to suggest that there is now more awareness of the condition and therefore, it is being better recognised in children.

    This means that more children are now being identified and recognised but the actual number of children with ADHD has not increased.

The potential impact of ADHD on mental health

Research has shown that ADHD is often associated with reduced health and well-being of the person and their family.

a group of children and adults take part in a movement class

This reduction in well-being can be linked to factors such as:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Substance misuse
  • Difficulty forming relationships
  • Sleep problems
  • Being the victim of bullying

These factors can impact the development of any young person, but for someone with ADHD who is already experiencing their own personal difficulties like completing daily tasks, this can be very damaging for their mental health and effects can persist into adulthood.

Fortunately, there are things that parents, teachers and members of the general public can do to help make sure that any young person with ADHD gets supported through their challenges and to help boost their self-esteem and confidence.

How can we help?

  • Reinforcement

    Praising children with ADHD may occur less frequently if their behaviour often presents as challenging, however it is essential that they get rewards, be it verbal or otherwise.

    This can raise their self-esteem and help them develop a more positive image of themselves and their potential.

  • Maintaining a positive attitude.

    Maintaining optimism is key for a child’s belief that they can succeed and overcome the challenges that they face.

    If a child sees that you believe in them, they are more likely to think that they are capable of achieving.

    Highlighting the child’s strengths and reminding them of their talents is a great method of encouragement.

  • Raising awareness of ADHD.

    It is very important that more people are aware of what ADHD is.

    Therefore, the better we understand ADHD, the more young people and their families can be supported and the more the stigma around this condition can be significantly reduced.

Neurodiversity and ADHD

Over recent years, there has been a growing neurodiversity movement which aims to change how we think about ADHD and other conditions such as autism spectrum disorder.

Rather than thinking of these conditions in medical terms, neurodiversity is about variation in human behaviours and the human brain.

Therefore, the positive attributes of ADHD also need to be considered as they can lead to great success and life satisfaction under the right circumstances.

Many individuals with ADHD have the ability to be very creative and studies have shown that they tend to be ‘out-of-the-box’ thinkers.

a box of bright coloured crayons sits in front of children colouring

When working in line with their abilities and interests, and with their employer’s support, they are able to draw on their skills such as hyper-focusing in order to produce ideas and work that have shown to hugely benefit work organisations, making them a great asset to a team.

Children with ADHD in school environments also have the ability to achieve very highly when working accordingly with abilities and interests and with the right support from teachers and peers.

It is everyone’s job to ensure that no child is left behind.

Every child and young person needs to be accepted, included and believed in regardless of their neurodiverse and developmental needs.

Margaret J. Wheatley – “There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about”

Take part in research

We are working to better understand why some young people experience neurodevelopmental difficulties such as ADHD or autism, and mental health problems like depression or anxiety. 

To help us with this important work, we need volunteers to share their experiences by participating in our research.

If you’re the parent or carer of a child with ADHD you can take part online.

Read more

Jasmine Trotman

Jasmine is a Psychology student at Cardiff University and currently on placement with NCMH.

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