Recently, I met a new friend at my college, the University of Puget Sound, and during the course of our brief introduction he learned that I had ADHD. Almost without thinking he declared that ADHD does not exist and that it is not a "real condition." Naturally, I was confused by his reply and quite taken aback. For those of you following my blog here on the Huffington Post, you already know that I am a vocal advocate for millions of young people diagnosed with ADHD. For those thousands of you who have downloaded and read my free digital guide Embracing Your ADHD, you already know that teens and young adults with ADHD often feel social stigma about their condition. My mission and purpose is simple: we ADDYTeens, the term I coined for our community of young people with ADHD worldwide, need more resources, more understanding, more acceptance and less stigma.
Let's explore what his comment represents.
Here I am at a very good liberal arts university that attracts open-minded, creative and smart students from around the world, located in a very progressive part of the world (the Pacific Northwest). If one of my fellow students is so misinformed, imagine how many others truly misunderstand what we ADDYTeens experience and feel. My friend did not know anyone else with ADHD, and had no evidence to support his argument -- he simply "believed" ADHD is "not real." I think the term for this type of belief is "myth," and this myth that my friend so blatantly expressed inspired me to post what I think are the top five myths of ADHD that harm ADDYTeens worldwide.
Myth #1: ADHD is not real.
As with my friend, many people somehow believe that ADHD is not a real medical condition, that it does not have any real effects and that everyone is inattentive and/or hyperactive to some extent.
ADHD is often called an "invisible disorder" and is only discovered through behavior. It does not produce obvious physical manifestations (to those untrained to "spot" it). Although it is hard to spot ADHD or identify those who are struggling with it, it does in fact exist.
Many people without ADHD find it hard to relate to ADHD or acknowledge that it is real, and more importantly, how truly challenging ADHD is for ADDYTeens everywhere. ADDYTeens tend not to share details of our condition and we often internalize our challenges. Many are ashamed that it is harder to do what so many others find easy, and we do not open up about our life experiences as a result. I think that is why it's even harder to inform the public about what resources ADDYTeens would really benefit from having. This is why I created www.addyteen.com, why I published Embracing Your ADHD and why it's free. Teens and young adults may not listen to their parents and doctors, but they do listen to their peers. So, let's be plain about it -- ADHD is a very real disorder and has profoundly affected my life and the lives of millions of other ADDYTeens.
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA) attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurobiological condition affecting brain functions and one of the most common mental "disorders" affecting millions of children and young people. (I personally hate the term "disorder' and it does not help reduce social stigma we ADDYTeens experience. While I have learned much about the medical use of that term, one of my mentors -- Dr. Stephen Hinshaw -- lectured that the term "disorder" may be misapplied in the context of ADHD.)
Speaking of Dr. Hinshaw, his book -- The ADHD Explosion -- covers Myth #1. He points out that while ADHD is very real, some ADHD diagnoses are not medically accurate (a fact that applies to other conditions as well). Those of us with ADHD know we have a real condition, and it is my wish that everyone else know this to be a fact -- not a myth.
Myth #2: ADDYTeens will outgrow ADHD when they become adults.
ADHD is a nuerobiological disorder and while the symptoms may "seem to fade" as we age into adulthood, experts like Dr. Hinshaw says that the brain biology that drives ADHD persists as we get older. ADDYTeens, while you may not outgrow your biology, you can adapt to and thrive with ADHD. Having ADHD is just one part of who you are, you are unique and you will have a "unique" brain your entire life. While the root causes of ADHD do not disappear with age, overcoming the effects of ADHD entails learning how to cope, accommodating for and working around "your ADHD."
Manage your ADHD, or it may manage you. Gaining the skills and finding the tactics that work is an important factor in regulating the effects of your ADHD. If you start now to adapt to your condition, you will acquire the ability to focus better, achieve more and struggle less when you grow up and experience the "real world." As I like to say, "Why wait? Start now!" There are plenty of coping and management techniques for both school and home life listed within Embracing Your ADHD.
Myth #3: Medication can fix your ADHD.
For many ADDYTeens, the beneficial effects of properly prescribed medication is a major factor in their ability to cope with ADHD. Although medication has many effects, both good and bad, it is a myth to think that medication alone prevents or eliminates ADHD. Sorry, no such luck. Medication helps 30 percent, the 70 percent is your responsibility. ADHD medication treats some symptoms, but most experts say medication alone is not sufficient to manage and thrive with your ADHD. Meds helps you organize, focus and execute but it does not fix your ADHD. To learn more about the myth that medication alone is all an ADDYTeen needs to cope, read what the experts at CHADD.org published on this myth.
Myth #4: If you have ADHD, you cannot do well in school.
We all have unique brains and we are all unique people and each learn a bit differently, and do things a bit differently. ADDYTeens have unique brains too, and we learn a bit differently and for many of us learning can be difficult. That said, the vast majority of us find any number of things difficult, have any number of conditions, issues or problems that slow us down or frustrate our efforts.
Because it is difficult for ADDYTeens to focus, for example, ADDYTeens must learn to master the art of time management. Time management is one of the most important success factors for any ADDYTeen. So is finding ways to engage with your subject matter. Learning any subject you do not find engaging is especially difficult for ADDYTeens and when we lose motivation, we stop working as hard and ultimately perform poorly. Avoiding this negative cycle is another important success factor for any ADDYTeen.
Many ADDYTeens become exceptional students and many ADDYTeens have grown up to be effective business leaders, artists, scientists and even Presidents. You can read a list of amazingly successful people who were ADDYTeens within Embracing Your ADHD. To be successful in school, ADDYTeens must accept they will experience many challenges before they experience achievement. ADDYTeens should find additional support within school, from teachers and at home so they can learn the methods and techniques which will work best. We are not all the same, so we need to "run our own race" and in many cases we "learn harder but slower."
Myth #5: Parents can prevent ADHD with extra discipline.
Parents may think applying more discipline will "straighten up" their kids and help them focus before they know that ADHD may be a factor. For me, as I recount in Embracing Your ADHD, my home life was for a while a "constant battlefield," in great part because my parents also felt that applying more discipline would fix my inability to focus, organize and perform work efficiently before I was diagnosed. In fact, that only made our situation worse. Since ADDYTeens often struggle to articulate how we feel, and some of us have "emotions on steroids" -- which amplifies frustrating situations -- parents may jump to the conclusion that extra discipline is in fact the solution when it's ADHD that is driving the behavior. Without understanding the underlying dynamics of ADHD, the idea of discipline being the solution seems reasonable.
However, what tends to result is more tension and upset. In fact, it is often tension in the household that may have triggered the evaluation of a child for ADHD in the first place. ADHD makes our relationships with parents more complex. I have heard from many ADDYTeens that it sometimes seemed impossible to get along with their parents until the ADHD and its dynamics were understood by the entire family. After I was diagnosed with ADHD, my parents tried everything they could to maintain a healthy relationship with me and constantly aided me when I was stuck and in need of assistance -- but I still have ADHD. Even if parental instincts are strong, parents understand the dynamics of ADHD, and apply discipline wisely, ADHD remains a mighty challenge for ADDYTeens. Lack of discipline does not create ADHD, and more discipline at home will not cure it -- these are myths.
It is very important to dispel myths about ADHD and to remove the shame many ADDYTeens feel. Let's shed light on this cause and begin to build a true community of ADHD advocates. And this is how: stand up and be counted with ADDYTeen Roll Call.
We're asking every ADDYTeen to post their selfie on Instagram with #ADDYTEEN and #ADHD.
Our goal is for 10,000 ADDYTeens to make this post by the end of 2014 to put a face (or thousands!) to our cause, and with your help, we can do it! By demonstrating our passion for providing support for teens and young adults with ADHD, we can build our community from the ground up. I made the first post, have a look and follow me on Instagram!
Also join me in continuing to create awareness around ADHD and showing the world that ADDYTeens can not only overcome challenges, but thrive! Please support my social media efforts so we can continue to build momentum. This is a grassroots effort, so each and every click has the power to create a ripple effect that can create a tidal wave of awareness.
- Please "Like us" at www.facebook.com/addyteen and post an encouraging statement about anything related to ADHD and your experiences.
- Please visit www.addyteen.com and post a question or comment. I would love to hear about your personal, family, educational and social experiences impacted by ADHD. How does ADHD make you feel? How do you cope?
So be courageous and join the Roll Call on Instagram! Together we can make a difference.