7 ADHD Myths Debunked

Bad parenting, too much sugar and laziness are not the causes of ADHD.

Few psychological conditions have generated more debate than ADHD.  Still as seen in the documentary, ADHD: Not Just for Kids, people continue to harbour many mistaken beliefs.

MYTH: ADHD is just for kids
SCENE FROM THE FILM: Living with undiagnosed ADHD as an adult can have consequences that impede the sufferer's ability to live their life. Research finds that prison inmates have an increased incidence of ADHD.

In the majority of cases, children do not outgrow ADHD. Sixty to 80 per cent of children diagnosed with ADHD will still have symptoms into their teen or adult years, according to The Hospital for Sick Children.

The symptoms can become less obvious as people age. An adult may not be hyperactive but still have an inability to concentrate.

ADHD affects 4.4 per cent of adults, according to the documentary ADHD: Not Just for Kids. Many have never been diagnosed.

MYTH: ADHD isn’t actually a medical disorder

A German physician first wrote about ADHD in the mid-1800s in children’s books. The fictional characters which exhibited ADHD symptoms were based on his actual patients.

The first medically documented case can be traced back to 1902, according to The Hospital for Sick Children. ADHD symptoms have been given many names since then, but the overall disorder has not changed.

Research shows that ADHD is a biologically based disorder that's the result of an imbalance of chemical neurotransmitters in the brain.

A recent large study at New York's Columbia University Medical Centre showed that patients from 4 - 63 had some smaller brain regions when compared to the normal population. Experts say that this is proof that the behavioural problems in people with ADHD are actually neurological. 

ADHD is recognized as a medical disorder by medical bodies and associations across Canada.

MYTH: Bad parenting causes ADHD

Research points to two main causes of ADHD — neither of which include societal factors, such as bad parenting. Genetics (children have more than 50% chance of inheriting ADHD from their parents) and neurological factors (pregnancy complications, brain damage, exposure to toxins) are the cause of AHDH, according to The National Resource Center on ADHD.

Once diagnosed, parents can learn how to assist in guiding their child towards useful coping strategies to deal with their ADHD. 

Too much “screen time” isn’t to blame either. That's been linked to many other problems in childhood — inactivity, obesity, poor nutrition — but there is no strong evidence that it causes ADHD.

MYTH: ADHD is an excuse for laziness
SCENE FROM THE FILM: At what point does distraction and hyperactivity become a problem?

ADHD symptoms can look like normal behaviours, so many people say the diagnosis is a convenient excuse for a lack of discipline or misbehaviour. That is not the case.

It is a complex neurological disorder that interferes with a person’s executive functions, which include focus, memory, organization, and regulating emotions. Everyone has trouble with some of the traditional ADHD symptoms, but for people with the disorder, those symptoms interfere their everyday life. 

Studies show that people with ADHD are often above-average intelligence and once diagnosed, they can learn coping strategies to manage their symptoms and be successful. 

MYTH: Girls have lower rates of ADHD

Boys are typically more hyperactive and easier to spot, leaving many young girls and woman undiagnosed. Many girls aren’t hyperactive but instead are easily distracted and have a hard time concentrating on work, which is harder to identify. They are more likely to be at the back of the classroom keeping to themselves rather than disrupting the classroom.

Girls with ADHD are more likely to be diagnosed much later in life and are vulnerable to depression, anxiety and eating disorders. 

Since the traditionally male symptoms are more noticeable, boys have also been studied more, which re-enforces male-oriented symptom identification. Progress is being made as researchers study how ADHD effects girls.

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MYTH: Everyone with ADHD has the same symptoms

Not everyone displays the same ADHD symptoms. There are several key indicators, but just like the common cold, people can have many different symptoms.

ADHD symptoms can include a spectrum of issues from inattentiveness to hyperactivity or impulsiveness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.  Only when the symptoms are numerous and severe enough do doctors make a diagnosis of ADHD. 

Totally ADD offers a checklist which people can take online, although it's not a definitive medical diagnosis.

MYTH: Junk food and sugar cause ADHD

There is no scientific evidence that  too much sugar causes ADHD in children, according to a recent Nature of Things episode. Many people believe that too much sugar can cause hyperactivity in children in general, but this is not the case. Numerous studies have found no link between the two.

Some studies show that children with ADHD might be sensitive to certain food dyes or other kinds of additives but the evidence is unclear.  

In general though, there are lots of good reasons to feed all children a good, well-balanced diet. 

For more information on ADHD, watch the documentary ADHD: Not Just for Kids on The Nature of Things.

Available on CBC Gem

ADHD: Not Just For Kids

Nature of Things