What ADHD is NOT

Special needs mom, Clinical and School Psychologist
01/24/24  6:01 AM PST
children

It’s so easy to have many ideas and thoughts about children, teens, and young adults with ADHD. What we often label as laziness, poor motivation, intentionality and not being able to “just do it” are not those things at all.

In fact, our kids with ADHD have deep, individual struggles and resulting strengths. It is a diagnosis that is often misunderstood and mislabeled. Other adults (e.g., teachers or other parents) who don’t have a child with ADHD (or don’t have the diagnosis themselves) may seem judgmental. They may criticize our parenting and insist that we need to be more stringent and practice more “tough love.” It’s so very easy to judge from the outside.

ADHD is not intentional or manipulation

Children and adolescents with ADHD are often perceived as being able to control their behavior but choosing not to. This is a misperception because hyperactivity and impulsivity happen without thinking – it’s a matter of neurological wiring as well as over or underactivity of neurotransmitters or neurochemicals in different parts of the brain.

An adult may observe a child with ADHD who is speaking excessively, talking over others, getting up and moving fast when having a thought, asking a great number of questions, or falling off of his or her seat.  These manifestations of ADHD are not happening out of malicious or willful intent to be difficult or disruptive. Within the classroom, that child is not trying to interrupt a lesson or distract classmates.

These behaviors are manifestations of ADHD just as low insulin is a manifestation of diabetes.

ADHD is not due to Permissive or Lax Parenting

Sadly, parents are often blamed for their child or adolescent’s hyperactive or impulsive behaviors, limited social judgment, or academic struggles. ADHD is not due to parenting. Often, parents attempt to accommodate their child’s weaknesses by creating support in their home and school to help their son or daughter to function at their best. Parents may hear they are being ‘too easy’ or not being ‘strict’ enough. How many times has a parent of a child or teen with ADHD heard, “He needs more tough love”?  Well, tough love isn’t going to teach the skills. Instead, it’s going to cause more frustration and likely feelings of anxiety and low self-esteem.

ADHD is not due to Low Intelligence

Another thing that ADHD is not associated with is low intelligence. Our children and adolescents with ADHD often have a great number of strengths, equal to their non-ADHD peers. Many have well-developed visual-spatial learning skills where they think in pictures and videos rather than words. They see the big picture first and then learn the details, but the details are not as important as the big picture.  Intelligence, or lack of it, is not correlated with ADHD.

ADHD is a Neurological Disorder

It impacts attention, physical and emotional regulation, social skills, learning, and behavior. ADHD is diagnosed based on manifestations of different behaviors, such as difficulty with focus, sustained concentration, difficulty sitting still, and difficulty inhibiting thoughts or actions. These struggles are real, not fictitious. ADHD is as real as diabetes. Nobody has ever doubted or questioned if a person truly has diabetes.

ADHD is Connected to Anxiety

Many children, adolescents, and young adults diagnosed with ADHD also experience anxiety. Most of the time it is due to being aware that class assignments, homework, projects, studying, and daily life tasks will take a long time and they worry that they will not be able to complete them. Many are aware that they struggle to concentrate or focus even when the desire and motivation are there.  This is where executive functioning coaching comes into play to build systems and plans that will improve follow-through as well as self-confidence. Parents are a part of the process in helping to create routines and consistency that will also make it possible to complete daily routines and tasks.

ADHD is Manageable

ADHD is manageable with support at home and school, as well as learning about areas of strength and weaknesses and using those strengths to compensate for weaknesses. Parents can seek support plans such as a 504 Accommodation Plan or an Individualized Education Plan in school. At home, with the help of a therapist, parents can begin to understand their child’s profile which can help with managing behaviors, emotions, friendships, and academics.

 

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