Don't battle myths of ADHD alone, talk to your child's doctor

adhd Apr 08, 2021
ADHD myths vs facts

The Washington Post column by Valerie Strauss “If you can pay attention, you do not have ADHD”–and 9 other misconceptions about the disorder” is a great read.  Ms. Strauss highlights the Top 10 Myths of ADHD by Dr. Ned Hallowell, a child and adult psychiatrist. This list is a good for families of newly diagnosed children or in situations where parents are concerned about the possibility of ADHD and have yet to get confirmation.

The list includes:

  1. Having ADHD means you're stupid. MYTH. Children with ADHD have their gifts and are creative, original and smart!
  2. ADHD is a serious disability. MYTH. When individuals with ADHD learn HOW to work with ADHD and it is properly managed, it can be a superpower!
  3. The "right help" begins and ends with medication. MYTH. I'll be tackling this one in more depth below.
  4. You must see a child psychiatrist for a diagnosis. MYTH. While kids with severe or complicated ADHD may end up seeing a child psychiatrist or developmental-behavioral pediatrician, most children can be diagnosed by their pediatrician.
  5. ADHD is only found in boys. MYTH. Boys tend to be diagnosed at a higher rate but that is because presentation can be different for girls
  6. You have to be hyper and disruptive to have ADHD. MYTH. There are three different subtypes: Hyperactive-impulsive, inattentive and combined. 
  7. Individuals with ADHD will not do well in school or in life. MYTH. While individuals with ADHD are more likely to have co-existing learning disabilities and other behavioral or mood disorders, there are many high achievers with ADHD that include astronauts, Olympians, celebrities, authors, professors, self-made millionaires and inventors. The sky's the limit!
  8. ADHD is caused by bad parenting or too much screen time. MYTH. While there are things that can make it harder to manage attentional difficulties, these things do not cause ADHD. We continue to learn more about the multifactorial factors that can impact ADHD.
  9. If you can pay attention, you cannot have ADHD. MYTH. Individuals with ADHD often have difficulty with attention regulation. They can hyperfocus on things they love and find fascinating and have a hard time getting started or sticking to things that are boring. 
  10. Medicines for ADHD are dangerous. MYTH. Nothing is risk free, but medications for ADHD have been studied and used for a long time. Physicians will review any risk factors prior to starting medications. Medications, when used properly, can bring tremendous symptom relief. But medications should always be used in combination with other treatment options. 

One or more of these myths usually comes up when talking to parents, to grandparents and to schools.  There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about the diagnosis and treatment options.

Let’s get one of those out of the way now. When a doctor brings up the word, “treatment” , it does not necessarily imply medication.  However, I know many parents cannot stop thoughts of: “if this is ADHD, then it must mean they will want to medicate my child…” When a child is first diagnosed with ADHD, it does not automatically mean your child will need to be on medication. In fact, the first line “treatment” for ADHD is parent training and education.

Yes, sometimes medications are used in the treatment but educational supports, behavioral therapy and parent training are also part of the plan. These components can be started at any time and often combined with other treatments. Sometimes treatments are dropped and added on again at later times. It all depends on the child's age, how they are doing at home and school, what academic demands are being placed on them and what executive functioning issues they are struggling with. 

These decisions are made with the family and the team (for example: doctors, teachers, therapists)–and always with the goal of asking, “What else is needed to ensure that the child is learning and doing what he/she needs to be doing every day and doing it as well as can be expected?”

If you are a parent with a child with ADHD or a parent who is worried that your child may have ADHD, make sure you come prepared to ask questions or raise concerns to your child's doctor. You can schedule a behavior visit anytime.  It can be challenging and hard to remember who is doing what since much of the time behavioral conditions require many team players. Your child’s doctor wants you to feel comfortable with every decision that has to be made along the way. They are happy to have you ask questions, no matter how many times or different iterations.

Another thing to remember is that at the time when the diagnosis is uncertain or is new, it can feel like you are all alone and overwhelming. The first step is to take a breath and write down any and all questions. Organize all paperwork and relevant schoolwork in a binder/folder and keep them together. It helps keep things handy when you have to meet yet another new team player. It also ensures that everyone is on the same page. There is nothing more stressful than not knowing which team member to call when things go awry or after a particularly challenging day. 

The key is to remember to reach out to your child’s doctor if you have ongoing questions. Yes, they can prescribe medications for ADHD, but they can and always will be there to coordinate care and make referrals. They are interested in talking through all treatment options and linking you to great community resources and organizations. This is what the “medical home” is all about.

RELATED: Your child’s medical home: What you need to know

In my TEACH ME ADHD course, we review these myths with kids as young as 8 years old, along with their parents. I want them to know that just because they have ADHD, it still means ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE with proper treatment. The course is all about helping kids learn how to advocate for themselves from a young age to understand the ins and outs of ADHD and their brain. Families learn how to work with it and work with each other. It is important to help kids understand that ADHD is their superpower and to own it. 

Even if kids don't enroll in the course, parents can help kids learn what ADHD is and isn't by talking with them about it. Some of my favorite children's books for this purpose include:

Think about looking up a list of famous people with ADHD and helping kids see that they can dream big and achieve their goals too! 

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