Attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurological developmental disorder that is most often diagnosed in childhood. 3 – 8% of all children struggle with this disorder and most kids are diagnosed at school-going age, 7 years and up. The effect of ADHD on a child’s school performance as well as its impact on close relationships is often noted as major concerns by parents. Symptoms of ADHD include inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.
Many myths and untrue sentiments about ADHD continue to exist, and these are often distributed and believed as truths. It is of great importance that parents and professionals are educated and knowledgeable when understanding and discussing this disorder.
MYTH: ADHD is not a real medical disorder; your child is just naughty and stubborn
Research has confirmed that ADHD has a specific biological base. It is a result of an imbalance of certain neuro-transmitters in the brain, specifically dopamine and norepinephrine. Specific areas in the brain that are implicated in ADHD are the limbic system (emotional control centre), prefrontal cortex (controls judgement and delay and is the origin of impulsivity), locus ceruleous (arousal centre) and the nucleus acumbens (the feel-good/ reward centre of the brain).
MYTH: All kids who have ADHD behave and cope in the same way
All individuals who struggle with ADHD symptoms will do so in their own unique way. Children present with their own personal strengths and difficulties, and in the same way, their presentation of impulsivity, inattention, and hyperactivity will be unique to them. For example, some children are not very hyperactive or talkative but still struggle with attention and personal organization.
MYTH: Children will grow out of their hyperactive and inattentive symptoms
It is, in fact, a lifelong disorder, with about 60% of people continuing to face challenges related to the disorder into adulthood. The other 40%? They still have ADHD, but have learned to cope with their symptoms in a positive and successful way. They have learned how to structure their lives and how to motivate themselves in such a way that ADHD no longer impacts on their functioning or quality of life. This can be achieved through early intervention, medication, therapy and supportive family and school structures.
It has been estimated that 6% of the adult population struggle with symptoms of ADHD, but only 1 in 4 will seek help or therapy for their difficulties. This is concerning because adults with ADHD are at risk of developing co-morbid depression, anxiety and substance issues. They often struggle with career and relationship difficulties.
MYTH: ADHD only affects boys
In reality, ADHD affects children of both genders equally, and gender makes no difference to the severity or how symptoms are expressed. Because this myth persists, boys are more likely to be diagnosed than girls. The result? Girls who are in dire need of treatment and support might be overlooked, and boys who might be struggling with other emotional difficulties are assumed to have ADHD. A comprehensive emotional and educational assessment is always necessary to really understand a child’s unique strengths and difficulties, as well as possible emotional challenges. A clinical psychologist would be the most appropriate professional to assess the situation and assist a concerned parent.
MYTH: ADHD is the result of bad parenting
When a child acts on impulse at school, shouting out answers or grabbing crayons from other learners, they are not behaving in this way because their parents have failed to teach them manners. These problems are rooted in brain chemistry, not discipline or parenting skills. Causes of ADHD include: genetics, prematurity and low birth weight, smoking during pregnancy and maternal trauma/ distress. Parental guidance and tips should be provided by your psychologist, to help parents of kids with ADHD understand how they can optimize communication and cooperation.
MYTH: Children who use prescribed medication for ADHD are more likely to develop substance abuse issues later in life.
The opposite is actually true. Children and adolescents, who receive proper treatment to help them combat and control their ADHD symptoms, are LESS likely to turn to recreational drugs and alcohol to self-medicate.
MYTH: Using medication for ADHD will make my child appear drugged or zombie-like
This is very untrue, and a myth that causes many parents to think twice about using stimulant medication to assist in children’s ADHD symptoms. The truth is that properly adjusted medication doses should not have this effect on children. It is of vital importance to get your child’s script for medication from a reputable doctor, such as a paediatrician or psychiatrist, who will monitor your child’s functioning and response to medication. Follow-up consultations are very important. There are other therapies and interventions for ADHD, including dietary adjustments, psychotherapy, cognitive behaviour therapy and occupational therapy. The treatment regimen that you choose to follow should be tailor-made to your child’s specific needs and challenges. Research indicates that a combination of mediation and behaviour therapy yields best results.
MYTH: Kids with ADHD are lazy and will never be successful.
Research has taught us that individuals with ADHD are often of above average intelligence. Children and adults with ADHD are often able to hyper-focus on subjects and topics that interest them, and in this way, they are often very successful when it comes to their areas of passion. The difficulty lies in the school years, where children have to cope with subjects that are not exciting or interesting to them. Understanding and unlocking what motivates and excites your child is the key to guaranteeing his or her success at school and in the future.