Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurobehavioral (meaning it impacts the brain) condition. It affects more than 6 million kids in the U.S. alone. Children and teens with ADHD may have trouble controlling their emotions, actions, or what they pay attention to. Some symptoms may pop up as early as preschool.
ADHD has well-defined symptoms and effective treatments. But experts worry that certain misconceptions may prevent or delay treatment.
Talk to a doctor about your child’s behavior or attention problems. They’ll clear up any questions you might have about ADHD. Here are some common myths you might want to ask about.
Myth No. 1: Kids Will Outgrow ADHD
It may look like your child’s ADHD goes away as they become less hyper with age. But long-term research shows most people continue to have ADHD issues as they grow up. However symptoms may change over time or become easier to handle or hide.
Along with symptoms from childhood, signs of ADHD in teens and young adults might include:
- Fidgeting or restlessness
- Forgetfulness or disorganization
- Trouble keeping track of time
- Social and relationship problems
- Issues at work
Talk to your doctor about how to handle adult ADHD. Medication, behavioral treatment, and lifestyle changes can help you or your child manage their condition for life.
Myth No. 2: ADHD Isn’t a Real Medical Condition
You may hear some people say that ADHD is just the high end of normal energy or that lots of kids have trouble paying attention. Some may question the disorder because doctors can’t diagnose it with a blood or brain test.
But experts and medical groups consider ADHD a medical disorder for several reasons, including:
Symptoms impair daily activities. The term “disorder” can refer to mind or body differences that make everyday life harder. And there’s lots of evidence that ADHD can affect your child’s mood or ability to make friends or do well at school.
It runs in families. While not the only factor, scientists think genes play a big part in whether someone will develop ADHD. Studies show there’s a good chance a child will develop ADHD if one of their parents or siblings has the condition. The likelihood is even higher for twins if one is diagnosed.
People with ADHD have brain differences. While brain scans can’t diagnose ADHD, scientists have evidence that the brains of people with the disorder look different than those without it.
Myth No. 3: All Kids With ADHD Are Hyperactive
You might notice that some children with ADHD run around a lot or have trouble sitting still. But kids diagnosed with the disorder may show signs of one of three different behavioral patterns, including:
- Predominantly inattentive. They can’t pay attention, finish a task, or follow instructions well.
- Hyperactive-impulsive. They may interrupt people, move constantly, or act without thinking.
- Combined. They have equal symptoms of the above types.
The kind of ADHD your child has depends on which symptoms affect them most. Keep in mind their presentation type may change over time.
Myth No. 4: Kids With ADHD Could Behave if They Tried Harder
Your child may know they’ve acted poorly and feel bad about it. But for kids with ADHD, better behavior isn’t a matter of effort. Their brains may trigger a fast reaction before they’ve had chance to think about what’s happening or how they should respond.
If your child had trouble with impulse-control, talk to your doctor. Behavioral therapy or other treatment may help.
Myth No. 5: ADHD Affects Boys More Than Girls
It’s true that boys are diagnosed at more than twice the rate of girls. But ADHD tends to look different in girls, and experts think the condition may be overlooked and undertreated in this group.
Girls and boys can have the same symptoms. But here are some common differences that doctors and researchers notice between the two.
Boys with ADHD tend to have behavioral issues or other mental health conditions that are easier to see, such as:
- Physical aggression
- Oppositional defiant disorder (a condition where you have high patterns of anger)
- Conduct disorder
Girls with ADHD tend to have less obvious or disruptive symptoms, such as:
- Anxiety or depression
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Perfection-seeking behaviors
Myth No. 6: Medication Is the Only Treatment for ADHD
Medication is a good way to manage ADHD symptoms. But your doctor will likely suggest a mix of drug treatment and behavioral therapy.
For kids younger than 6 years old, experts recommend parent training before medication. That’s a kind of behavior management for caregivers. Ask your doctor if it’s right for you and your child.
Myth No. 7: Kids With ADHD Aren’t Smart or Motivated
There’s no relationship between intelligence and ADHD. It tends be diagnosed at about the same rate among children with high, average, or low IQ scores.
Kids with ADHD learn and think differently. But they can do well when they have the right tools to stay organized and on task. And research shows they may be really good at coming up with out-of-the-box ideas. This is called divergent thinking, and it can be a useful problem-solving approach.
Myth No. 8: Poor Parenting Causes ADHD
You may worry that your child’s behavior disorder is your fault. But there’s no evidence that family trouble or certain parenting styles lead to the development of ADHD.
Although studies do show that physical punishment, yelling, and a lack of positive reinforcement may worsen behavior in kids with ADHD.
As a parent or caregiver, you can help your child manage their condition. Talk to a mental health professional if you need tips for how to do that. One-on-one or family therapy may help you build a better relationship with your child.
Myth No. 9: ADHD Is Diagnosed Too Much
More kids are diagnosed with ADHD than in the past. But experts think that’s because doctors are more aware of the condition than in previous decades.
There’s a growing concern that ADHD goes unnoticed in some groups. For example, Black and Latino children are less likely to receive a diagnosis, which lowers their chances of getting early and effective care.
Treatment for ADHD can boost a child’s quality of life and lower the odds of:
- Substance use
- Poor school performance
- Criminal activity
- Depression and suicide
Photo Credit: Peter Cade / Getty Images
Colby Wiley, PhD, NCSP, pediatric neuropsychologist, Northwestern Medicine, Delnor Hospital, Illinois.
David Flink, ADHD advocate and founder, Eye to Eye, New York City.
CDC: “Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – Data and Statistics,” “Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – What is ADHD?”
Pediatrics: “Clinical Practice Guideline for the Diagnosis, Evaluation, and Treatment of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adolescents.”
National Institute of Mental Health: “Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).”
Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews: “The World Federation of ADHD International Consensus Statement: 208 Evidence-based Conclusions about the Disorder,” “Creativity and ADHD: A review of behavioral studies, the effect of psychostimulants and neural underpinnings.”
CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder): “Grow Out of ADHD? Not Likely,” “Myths and Misunderstandings.”
Mayo Clinic: “Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.”
The American Professional Society of ADHD and Related Disorders: “Myths About the Diagnosis of ADHD.”
Nature: “Genetics of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”
The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders: “A Review of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Women and Girls: Uncovering This Hidden Diagnosis.”
The Scientific World Journal: “Associations between Inadequate Parenting Practices and Behavioral Problems in Children and Adolescents with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.”