At present, around 7.2% of children and adolescents aged 18 and below—approximately 129 million individuals globally—are living with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in some form. In spite of this mounting prevalence, however, many stereotypes and misconceptions still surround the condition. These unfounded myths remain an unfortunate problem in conservative societies like Singapore, for all that concerted efforts on the part of concerned groups have helped lessen the stigma around ADHD and other mental health conditions over time.
Myths about ADHD not only misrepresent its true nature but also fuel harmful biases that can lead to discrimination. As a result of these misconceptions, people with ADHD may be singled out or excluded at work and school. They might also face difficulties in their interpersonal interactions and their relationships with others. The traumatic influence of such experiences—which can range from emotional hurt to physical violence—is protracted in many cases and even lifelong in some. Thus, it’s important for people without ADHD to be mindful of their language and to challenge stereotypes in order to foster a more accepting environment for those living with the condition.
Unsure of how to speak about ADHD or how to hold a conversation with someone who has it? Here are five things you should never say—and some more constructive things you can say instead.
ADHD Isn’t Real
Though many skeptics still assume ADHD is a made-up condition, it is in fact widely recognised by medical professionals and backed by decades of scientific research. These studies indicate that ADHD has biological origins and can significantly impact various aspects of an individual’s life. Most frequently, it impairs their concentration. ADHD individuals may also struggle with social interaction and impulse control.
Furthermore, abundant literature is now available on how ADHD can be diagnosed and treated. By pursuing a professional ADHD assessment in Singapore, individuals who suspect they might have the condition—or people who might suspect that their child or another loved one could have the condition—can even access a wealth of clinical interventions and resources that they need to manage it.
Dismissing the existence of ADHD undermines the experiences of those who live with this condition daily. Instead of contributing to this myth, it’s crucial to educate oneself about ADHD and understand it as a real neurological condition. A more considerate way to converse with someone who has ADHD might be to admit that you don’t know a lot about it and ask them to tell you about their experience. This shows respect and a willingness to learn and understand.
ADHD Isn’t a Big Deal
ADHD manifests differently from case to case, but there’s no denying that it can severely compromise an individual’s well-being and ability to function. It can hamper their capacity to focus, regulate their emotions, and manage their time. It can also interfere with their academic performance, work life, and even personal relationships. To minimise it undermines the struggles and challenges that people with ADHD face daily.
When interacting with someone who has ADHD, rather than trivialising their experiences, it’s more supportive to acknowledge the difficulties associated with the condition. Acknowledging that ADHD can be hard to navigate and asking about how it impacts the person personally can help facilitate a more understanding and empathetic interaction.
ADHD Is Overdiagnosed
Many people without ADHD may look at rising diagnosis rates in recent years and come to the conclusion that the condition is overdiagnosed. At baseline, it is true that people suspected to have ADHD are more likely to be diagnosed today than in previous years, when the condition was less well-understood. However, this precisely indicates that knowledge and awareness of the disorder have risen over time. Diagnosis and testing methods for ADHD have also been refined over the years. Diagnosing ADHD today involves a thorough evaluation process, usually requiring input from several sources, including parents, teachers and medical professionals.
Jumping to conclusions about overdiagnoses perpetuates disdainful attitudes towards the condition and those who have it. It’s ultimately more compassionate to focus on the individual experiences of those diagnosed. If someone shares their diagnosis with you, a thoughtful response might be, “I understand that getting an ADHD diagnosis involves several steps. It must be a relief to have clarity about what you’ve been experiencing.” This acknowledges the complexity of the diagnosis process and validates the individual’s experience.
People with ADHD Are Just Lazy
One of the most detrimental stereotypes about individuals with ADHD is the assumption that they’re simply lazy. This belief wrongly reframes ADHD as a character flaw rather than a neurological disorder. People with ADHD often struggle with to manage their time and work in an organised manner, but they are almost never ignoring their responsibilities or putting off their tasks deliberately. These individuals often have to put in extra effort to accomplish tasks that others might take for granted.
Instead of furthering this misconception, a more supportive stance would be to acknowledge the hard work that those with ADHD often put into everything they do. Try a comment such as, “I can see you’re working hard. How can I best support you in your tasks?” It provides a platform for them to voice their needs and reassures them that their efforts are recognised and valued.
ADHD Is Just Boys Being Boys
ADHD is diagnosed more frequently in boys than in girls and nonbinary individuals, particularly in childhood. However, this discrepancy may reflect differences in behaviour between the sexes and diagnostic biases rather than an actual prevalence. Girls with ADHD, for instance, may exhibit less perceptibly hyperactive behaviour, leading to them being underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
Assuming that ADHD is primarily a boys’ condition perpetuates gender biases and insinuates that individuals of other genders are less likely to experience severe symptoms. It also minimises the challenges faced by boys with ADHD and chalks them up to simply being “bad kids,” which can be immensely damaging to their self-esteem. Instead, it would be ultimately more productive to comment on how knowledge and awareness of ADHD have improved over the years, leading to more diagnoses and access to treatment for affected individuals.
Constructive conversations about ADHD require all participants to remain open, understanding, and supportive of people with the condition. Proceeding with this attitude in mind, it’s entirely possible to eliminate harmful misconceptions and create an environment that validates and supports those with ADHD, one respectful discussion at a time.