The Seven Misunderstandings about ADHD That Need to Change

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most prevalent childhood neurotypes in Australia, affecting more boys than girls.

Research suggests that 1 in 20 Australian children are ADHDers (Deloitte Access Economics, The Social and economic costs of ADHD in Australia 2019).

With advances in research and more information available, it is becoming easier for professionals and parents to recognise, diagnose and, therefore, support these children.

However, our community’s understanding is often outdated and, well, rather negative.This negativity has led to many misunderstandings and a lack of acceptance.

Let’s clear up some of the most common misunderstandings out there.

Misunderstanding 1: ADHDers can’t concentrate.

The ADHD brain is actually excellent at concentrating. It just finds it tricky to concentrate on activities or topics that the child isn’t interested in, at that moment in time.

Often ADHDers concentrate in a way we call ‘hyperfocus’, which means they are SUPER focused on one thing. This could be Lego, a book, a piece of interesting bark, a particular song/artist or a topic such as Pokemon or ancient history.

One strength of many ADHDers is their ability to research an area of interest in incredible detail and depth, and they often enjoy sharing this knowledge.

When an ADHDer is hyperfocussed, it can be really tricky to shift their focus and they often describe forced shifts as ‘distressing’.  Some prefer the term VAST (Variable Attention Stimulus Trait) which means that their attention is variable in nature.

Misunderstanding 2: ADHDers are ‘naughty’ and need firmer parenting.

This is a really distressing misconception. It is estimated that ADHDer children experience up to 20,000 corrective comments by age 10.

Parenting an ADHDer is best done with a big dose of understanding and patience, rather than heaped on threats and consequences.

When a child is scolded or punished for a behaviour that is out of their control, it often results in a sense of shame or worthlessness, which in turn, can make the child act out, as they are feeling judged or ‘less’.

ADHDers are often very aware of their mistakes, so kindness is a great parenting strategy.

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 Misunderstanding 3: ADHDers are just boys.

ADHD presents in girls too, but can look different. In fact, ADHD presents somewhat differently across children in general.

Although girls can be hyperactive and need a lot of physical movement, they can also internalize this need and be seen as very busy in their minds and can find it hard to stay focused on classwork or social interactions.

Girls tend to be harder to identify, as they are known to be good at ‘masking’. This means that they can work hard to appear ‘neruo-typical’, often coming home from school and letting go of the day’s stress in tears. 

reconnect as a family

Misunderstanding 4: ADHD isn’t a real thing.

Yep.  It is! It’s a neurotype that is atypical or different from the typical population.

It can be really distressing to ADHDers and their families when others dismiss this or make comments such as “but all boys are energetic!”

Misunderstanding 5: ADHDers need to try harder.

Most often, they are trying their absolute best.

The effort it takes ADHDers to try and stay on task, regulate their need to move and hold in their impulses, is huge.

Often the energy taken to do these things results in exhaustion, and this can be expressed as an inability to move at all, a meltdown or an outburst.

Being so emotionally and physically exhausted from trying so hard, is incredibly effortful and we need to support these children, rather than forcing them to ‘try harder’. 

child struggling in school trying to do homework

Misunderstanding 6: ADHDers just need to fit in with everyone else.

ADHDers generally want to be included and part of the community. Yet having to work so hard to navigate mainstream life, can be exhausting.

We all need to work together to find common ground and try to support each other’s unique and individual needs.

Showing empathy for the challenges that ADHDers face is empowering, respectful and valuable.

Misunderstanding 7: ADHDers will grow out of it.

Often adult ADHDers find coping strategies that work for them. They may choose a career that fits their way of working or choose a lifestyle which allows them to be themselves. It doesn’t go away; it evolves and is often managed by lifestyle.

This list is not exhaustive and there are many other unfortunate misconceptions out there.  But, when we know better, we can do better.

If you or your family would like more information, please reach out to your local psychologist; arm yourself with knowledge and advocate for your child.

ADHD Awareness Month is celebrated every October, with events and activities happening all across the country and now, around the world, on the ground and on the Internet. To find out more, visit ADHD Foundation. 

mum centralAbout Emma-Rose Parsons

As the Director of Spectrum House Psychology and CoDirector of the Paediatric Health Collective, psychologist Emma-Rose Parsons has been working with children, families and school communities for 20+ years.

She is a Board Approved Supervisor and thoroughly enjoys working with clinicians to better understand their practice. Emma-Rose is an engaging and energetic presenter who is passionate about what she is teaching.

Emma-Rose regularly presents to school teams, to the community, at conferences, and via social media. When not working in the mental health space, Emma-Rose has a love for parenting her two sons, camping, and trail running.

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