If you have ADHD (or suspect you do), I wonder how many of you have come up against someone who rolls their eyes when you tell them that you think you have ADHD or have recently been diagnosed. Normally, the eye roll will lead to comments such as:
When people made remarks such as these to me, it used to make my blood boil to feel so misunderstood.
Eventually, I realised their opinions were based on their lack of knowledge about ADHD, and it had nothing to do with my diagnosis whatsoever.
I’ve compiled four of the most commonly misunderstood myths about ADHD that I’ve experienced (especially as an adult) below, and links at the bottom of the post to other common myths to help towards providing more understanding about what is true about ADHD, and where people may be myth-taken. (Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun).
The Four Myths
Myth no. 1: “People with ADHD just lack willpower! If they can focus for hours on things that interest them, then there’s no excuse for them to not be able focus on things they don’t want to do.”
Fact: ADHD causes executive dysfunction. A major part of executive dysfunction includes struggles with task initiation and being able to get the ball rolling with tasks.
Neurotypicals may also struggle with getting started with tasks, especially if it’s something that is unpleasant, boring, or takes a lot of time and effort.
For those with ADHD, it’s amplified. There’s a reason for the D in ADHD- meaning that symptoms are severe enough to be a disorder.
Why is it harder for people with ADHD? Because of dopamine– or lack of.
For those with ADHD, there’s less available distribution of dopamine, leading to less “drive” to initiate tasks, because of the lack of anticipated dopamine right at the end. There’s no fuel in the car to drive it forward- no push, no momentum.
It’s not about laziness whatsoever, it’s about the chemicals that we need to get going, the dopamine which is the fuel for our car, and the struggle with accessing that fuel.
The reason we have enough fuel to do tasks we enjoy is that it provides us dopamine- that fuel, to do the things we want to do.
It’s not being “selective”, it’s based on which task will provide our brains with the fuel to do it.
Myth no.2: “People with ADHD aren’t able to focus, they’re so scatty!”
Fact: Like the previous myth, this is may be caused by task initiation difficulties, but it may also involve other factors, such as inattentiveness, causing them to be more easily distracted.
Inability to focus may also be caused by feeling overwhelmed by the current environment (such as too much noise), and not being able to hear what’s being said.
I’ve covered task initiation above, so let’s jump to inattentiveness.
Once again, executive dysfunction is to blame for getting easily distracted, and this is also down to a lack of dopamine.
When everything is working correctly in the part of the brain responsible for executive function (the frontal lobe), then you’re able to regulate your attention and focus on the task at hand.
When the brain is seeking homeostasis, and in this case seeking the dopamine it’s requiring, it will go looking for it.
Rather than focusing on the topic that isn’t providing what it needs, the mind will wander, perhaps to look out the window, watching other people, or it may go inward to thoughts and daydreaming- searching here, there any everywhere to find that much needed spike of dopamine!
Many people with ADHD also suffer from sensory processing disorder, so if the environment is overstimulating, this can feel like a massive overload on the system which could lead to anxiety- this will most certainly make it even more difficult to concentrate.
Sound may also be an issue if there’s too much noise going on around them, perhaps there are too many conversations taking place in the same room, music, cutlery scraping against plates…
Someone with ADHD may struggle in being able to filter out the unnecessary sounds to be able to focus on what they need to.
This is why a lot of people with ADHD choose to have subtitles turned on when they watch tv or movies- to help “hear” it better!
Finally, even though ADHD names ‘attention’ as being part of the deficit, this may be inaccurate.
People with ADHD can most certainly focus, in fact, they can focus so intently that it can last for hours. This is known as hyperfocus.
To prevent the additional struggle of swapping between tasks, the brain can sometimes initiate hyperfocus.
Swapping between tasks (task switching) involves stopping what you are currently doing to begin something else, and finding the momentum required to begin the second task. This can be a massive struggle for those who lack the dopamine to take each of these steps.
Myth no. 3: “You’re an adult, you should’ve grown out of ADHD by now!”
Fact: Based on this article in Chadd– ADHD and Long-Term Outcomes, here are some of the findings spanning different papers covering different studies:
Sometimes symptoms may lessen and/or change over time, while others with ADHD may learn coping skills to manage their symptoms.
Masking (consciously or unconsciously) may also be a reason why it appears that symptoms have improved.
As the statistics above show, many people will still feel the effects of ADHD long into adulthood. These studies mainly show findings of childhood ADHD up until young adulthood, but I wonder what the findings will show based on studies of adults in their 40s and beyond with ADHD?
For women and AFAB individuals, there’s the additional issue of estrogen.
Symptoms may get worse over perimenopause and menopause as decreased levels of estrogen trigger many symptoms of ADHD such as irritability, low mood, brain fog, anxiety, sleep issues, moodiness, and exacerbated inattentiveness. It’s not surprising that there’s an influx of women in their late 30s and onwards that are seeking a diagnosis!
Myth no. 4: “Everyone has those symptoms! I guess that means we all have a little ADHD?”
Fact: ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, which refers to the development of the nervous system, meaning there is a difference between ADHD brains and those without.
A study with 1713 participants with ADHD (ages ranging from 4-63) had their brain volumes examined, and the finding confirmed that five brain regions (the nucleus accumbens, amygdala, caudate, hippocampus, and putamen) were smaller than those without ADHD.
This was mostly discovered in children (under 15 years) than adults (21 years and over). This means that ADHD may cause a delay in childhood development.
Another difference in the brain includes the ability to produce dopamine, as I’ve mentioned before.
The brain creates neurotransmitters, and these messages travel from the brain to the rest of the body. In this instance, the “message” is dopamine. Normally, the message is given, absorbed, and the body receives the goodness that dopamine brings- improved sleep, mood, motivation, and attention.
However, the ADHD brain creates too many transporters of dopamine, which leads to less dopamine being produced, causing executive dysfunction.
Yes, a lot of people lose things, forget things, and get lost in daydreams, but this is only the tip of the ADHD iceberg.
ADHD is a disorder because of the severity and frequency of symptoms for those who have it.
“Simple” tasks may not feel so simple when you lack the required brain chemical that’s responsible for many of the symptoms of ADHD.
Thanks for reading this blog post, I hope you’ve found this list useful.
Let me know which myths you’ve most heard about ADHD!
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Other Links on the Topic:
Five common myths and misconceptions about ADHD (Future Learn)
Debunking the Top 10 ADHD Myths and Misconceptions (Hello Ahead)