For the month of May, Defying Shadows will be joining the Mental Health Awareness Month by sharing a post daily on a different type of Mental Illness or “Shadow” that people commonly struggle with. Join us in creating awareness and working to end the stigma that goes with these topics! Today we have Jennie Friedman sharing on ADHD. ~ Defying Shadows Team.
It’s 2015, and our general understanding of ADHD can finally stand rooted in facts. Until recently, only the specialists who had devoted their careers to developing the following information knew how to distinguish fact from fiction, and the fiction was so intriguingly scandalous! Lazy parents too selfishly busy satisfying their own wants to be bothered with the duties of child-rearing could now have their kids pop a magic pill that would zombify them into submission for their teachers, thus killing two birds with one stone: no more teachers nagging them about how bad Johnny was, and Johnny wasn’t such a huge bother anymore. Maya Angelou is quoted as saying, “When you know better, you do better.” The time has arrived; we can do better in spreading the facts about ADHD instead of this stigma-inducing rhetoric that is not of service to anyone living with or loving those with ADHD. While there are many crazy myths surrounding the condition, the following five have long passed their expiration date.
- ADHD is not a real disorder
That sentence packs a punch for a few reasons, so let’s break it down. First, let’s address what real means. A book came out last year explaining that the symptoms are real, but that they shouldn’t be lumped together and called Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity-Disorder or ADHD. Look, you can play word games with your grandmother. Obviously, there could be a different term used, but right now, we call it ADHD and it’s understood as a collection of symptoms associated with both the way the executive functions of an individual operate and their brains’ levels of certain neurotransmitters, primarily serotonin and dopamine. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help with the former and medication with the latter.
Second, let’s discuss the term disorder. While the non-ADHD world squabbles over whether it’s real or not, the ADHD population has their own “pick-a-side” debate. Those diagnosed know it’s real, they live with it and so that’s a non-issue. But there is disagreement on whether it’s a gift or a curse. To some, they feel their ADHD provides certain super powers, like hyper-focus or a finely tuned intuition. Others lament the way they were made and blame their miseries and failures on the negative consequences that can arise from being inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive.
- ADHD is a childhood condition, which is outgrown, or it’s a life sentence
No one outgrows ADHD. This may seem like a bold statement since even the most liberal reporting find 70% of children diagnosed retain it through adolescence and 50% through adulthood. But those statistics give the false hope that for a few, ADHD magically disappears one day, and it doesn’t. The truth is that as individuals with ADHD mature, they learn, adapt, and adjust. They learn strategies to control some of their impulsivity and figure out how to place themselves in environments and careers that allow them to shine, tapping into their strengths and interests.
The child with ADHD has no such luxury. They are stuck struggling to do what they are told to do, when to do it, and how to do it. While it’s not as horrific as a life sentence, this is the downside of ADHD. A brain designed to engage only when interest and curiosity are piqued is not conducive to our American classroom, yet. And so, ADHD is more noticeable in a child and becomes less noticeable as they age.
- ADHD is the same for everyone with it
Unlike Type 1 Diabetes, the deregulation of the pancreas, which is always characterized by the production of little to no insulin, ADHD is a deregulation of the executive function and certain neurotransmitters in the brain. It is unique to each individual. As a spectrum disorder, ADHD symptoms vary, and so do degrees of severity. There is a range from having very mild symptoms in only one area to having severe and or many symptoms in several areas. There is no universal case of ADHD.
- What causes ADHD and how prevalent a condition it is
One day we’ll know the cause of ADHD, perhaps as we learn more about the human genome. We already know it’s a heritable condition and runs in families. Until then, we know what’s not the cause: bad parenting, willful bad behavior, or that it was made up by pharmaceutical companies. First, the belief that parents don’t want to discipline their children and would rather they run amok is ridiculous and probably was started by people without children. Even the strictest of parents who have a child with ADHD can see that behavioral modification approaches don’t eliminate all ADHD symptoms 100% of the time.
Second, the person with ADHD is not willfully making their life difficult. Johnny knows intellectually to listen to Ms. Jones but his subconscious is not filtering out all irrelevant stimuli around him. He’s having to sort consciously through all of what his senses are picking up on, and that takes more time and more energy and explains why he just missed what she said. To fully understand human executive functions only takes reading a book. There are several good ones out there including A New Understanding of ADHD in Children and Adults: Executive Function Impairments by Dr. Thomas Brown, who created the model for understanding them.
Lastly, that big-pharma invented ADHD to make money is a conspiracy theorist’s fantasy. True, there’s a lot of money involved in the pharmaceutical industry, but that’s an issue about capitalism. ADHD knows no borders and is in every country in the world including France. The US has about 15 million diagnosed with ADHD, which is almost 5% of its population. While close to 80% more are believed to have it although undiagnosed, that would still be under 10%, certainly not near a number that warrants extremists’ warnings of an epidemic. It makes for good headlines though, another issue tied to capitalism, not ADHD.
- That people with ADHD are “less than”
Perceiving individuals with ADHD as somehow less than is by far the most damaging of all of the misperceptions and myths about ADHD. That the individual is mentally incompetent in some way is foundationally damaging to their relationships and self-esteem. Foremost, it isn’t true. A person’s intellect is not affected by ADHD. Also, it’s degrading. Believing that someone who behaves and thinks differently from you is substandard is not only insulting, but it is the whole reason stigma exists.
Stigma is the negative and unfair beliefs about something. For example, stigma about ADHD includes descriptions like crazy, stupid, dumb, and lazy. When we use stigma to label individuals with ADHD, the perceptions about them can be horribly unjust. Even worse, their self-esteem commonly suffers, fueling a self-fulfilling cycle of negativity. Johnny is not expected to perform well, doesn’t, and then gives up trying eventually. We repeatedly see the Johnnies of the world grow up and become John, the adult with ADHD. Now he doesn’t have the spirit, strength, or conviction that he can do the things he sets his mind to do.
Remember, we know better now, so let’s move forward collectively past these ignorant myths and do better. Let’s show that we know by accepting that people with ADHD are wired uniquely – just as uniquely as those without it. At the end of the day, no one is just his or her ADHD. It’s certainly a challenging path in the world but one we can all benefit from acknowledging as real and treating those with it with the compassion, acceptance, and understanding everyone deserves.