I received a late ADHD diagnosis when I was 24 years old. While I always had many sneaking suspicions throughout my lifetime that I might have it, a lot of the ways ADHD was portrayed, both in pop culture and in the greater cultural context, gave me the wrong perception about the condition.
Back then, I bought into many of the myths and misconceptions about ADHD that I now know couldn’t be further from the truth.
In the time since my diagnosis, I’ve come across a lot of great, credible information about living with ADHD from reputable health organizations, advocacy sites, and even others with ADHD.
For the most part though, the way ADHD is portrayed in media is not really all that accurate and oftentimes even a bit reductive.
Here are a few of the myths I grew up believing about ADHD that I hope to dispel.
People with ADHD always do poorly in school
This is one misconception that I am perhaps most passionate about dispelling. When I first started therapy and raised my concerns that I might have ADHD, my doctor quickly dismissed it.
Why? Because I was an excellent student — I was the salutatorian in high school and graduated with Latin honors from my university.
Because of this, my doctor more or less said that it was impossible for me to have ADHD on the grounds that people with ADHD pretty much always do badly in school.
While ADHD symptoms can make academics more challenging and can impact school performance, having ADHD doesn’t mean that you’re bound to have terrible grades and drop out of school.
In fact, I know a lot of rockstar academics who also have ADHD, some who even graduated at the top of their class. You may have to jump over more obstacles than your neurotypical classmates, but that doesn’t mean you can’t succeed!
ADHD = messiness
This one is a bit of a mixed bag (literally and figuratively). This is kind of hard to explain, but for me, ADHD messiness is a special kind of messiness. I like to call my messy room the controlled chaos that reflects my life.
Yes, I have clothes that are in abnormal spots. Yes, my jewelry can be all over the place. Yes, my books don’t belong there. BUT, I know where every single item is.
Many of my friends with ADHD operate this way, too. It’s a controlled chaos. ADHD is a spectrum, and messiness can be one of your symptoms. At the same time, a messy car or untidy room doesn’t equate to an ADHD diagnosis.
ADHD = failure
There are way too many articles, videos, and sad statistics that paint people with ADHD to be doomed to fail in life, or at least be forever below average. I can’t stress enough how much these bother me and how untrue they are.
I strongly believe someone’s upbringing and education are much better indicators of their potential for success in life, whether or not they have ADHD.
This is, of course, not to dismiss the struggles that come with having ADHD — because it is a struggle. At the same time, I firmly believe that ADHD doesn’t doom you to be a failure in life.
Don’t believe me? Try this experiment: Take whatever field or position you want to work in and search for people with ADHD in that field.
For example, I’m an aspiring filmmaker, so I would Google search for “filmmakers with ADHD” and quickly learn that my favorite director, Alexander Iñárritu, whose films have been nominated for 45 Oscars, has ADHD like me!
You’ll find tons of stories like this, no matter the field.
ADHD isn’t real
Despite loads of evidence and millions of diagnoses to the contrary, many people think that ADHD is just an excuse or something that’s completely made up. There are entire books and blogs dedicated solely to trying to prove ADHD doesn’t actually exist.
I’m going to safely assume that if you’re reading this, you’re not in this category. But just in case: Yes, ADHD is a real neurological condition that has been thoroughly researched and studied by medical professionals. It’s not something we’re just making up.
ADHD only affects boys
This is simply reductive and old-school thinking. ADHD continues into adulthood, and yes, women absolutely can have it, too — even if slightly more men are diagnosed with the condition than women.
Everyone has “a little ADHD”
The phrase “I’m so ADHD” is probably used a bit too often by people who don’t actually have ADHD.
People often incorrectly attribute moments of forgetfulness or being disorganized to having ADHD, but that still doesn’t negate the fact that roughly four percent of adults live with the condition.
Social media/vaccines/gluten/sugar/red meat causes ADHD
You can take off that tinfoil hat. There’s a lot of misinformation spreading online these days, and it can be easy to get caught up in all of the articles and stories out there.
As of now, scientists have not yet pinpointed a single cause for ADHD.
Yes, there are studies showing that children who watch TV or spend lots of time in front of a computer can have shorter attention spans, but that doesn’t mean that more screen time caused your ADHD.
People with ADHD can’t ever focus
ADHD is a complex condition with many intricacies. While forgetfulness and lack of focus are significant symptoms of ADHD, one of the biggest indicators of ADHD is, ironically, an ability to focus very intensely.
This is called “hyperfocusing,” and many people with ADHD say it’s the best perk of having the condition.
Hyperfocusing is a unique mental state where we are razor-focused on whatever task we’re working on, to the point where nothing in the world can distract us. Lots of people with ADHD say that hyperfocusing is like a superpower!
ADHD always looks the same
People with ADHD often get caricatured in pop culture as ultra-scatterbrained, constantly forgetful, and perhaps even overly enthusiastic. The fact is, no two cases of ADHD are the same.
You can be an introvert and have ADHD. You can excel in school and have ADHD. You can be an organized person and have ADHD. I could go on for days about this!
I’m sure there are hundreds of myths about ADHD that I haven’t touched on, but these are the most common ones that I hear. If you have ADHD, hopefully these responses will help you next time someone brings up any misconceptions about ADHD.
If someone you know has ADHD, or you used to believe in one or more of these myths, hopefully these have helped change your perspective on the condition.
The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for the evaluation, management, or treatment of any condition.
ADHD-US-NP-00053 MAY 2019