ADHD - Common misconceptions about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
October 10, 2021 is World Mental Health Day. This year, Mental Health America (www.mhanational.org) is raising awareness of mental health conditions that are often misunderstood or aren't discussed much at all. ADHD is one mental health condition we often see in both children and adults, and is often misunderstood. Read on to learn more about some common beliefs about this more complicated mental health condition.
“Children Outgrow ADHD”
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders diagnosed in children. Children are usually diagnosed with ADHD in early childhood, around the age of 7. There is a prevalent misconception that people eventually outgrow ADHD. However, studies have shown that children who struggle with ADHD in childhood will often still experience symptoms into adulthood. Sometimes the symptoms will change or manifest in other ways as a person grows and matures. For example, a child with ADHD may present as fidgety and unable to sit still, while an adult may not have physical manifestations of hyperactivity but still experience internal restlessness.
“Kids with ADHD are always hyperactive.”
While hyperactivity is one of the easier to recognize symptoms of ADHD, it is not true that all children with ADHD will present with hyperactivity as one of their symptoms. In fact, there are three different types of ADHD.
Hyperactive and Impulsive Type- This type is probably what most people think of when they hear that a child has ADHD. It is characterized by frequent disruptive behaviors such as excessive talking, interrupting, excess energy, inability to sit still, impulsivity, and fidgeting.
Inattentive Type- This type of ADHD is more difficult to recognize and diagnose because the symptoms are not as overtly apparent. Those with Inattentive Type ADHD struggle with organization, tend to daydream, are easily distracted, and have difficulty following instructions.
Combined Type- People with Combined Type ADHD present with symptoms of both Hyperactive and Impulsive type and Inattentive type equally.
“Only boys have ADHD.”
Boys are indeed 2x more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls, but that is not because girls don’t have ADHD. Unfortunately, girls are more likely to go undiagnosed because they are more likely than boys to present with Inattentive Type ADHD. Boys are generally diagnosed in childhood, while girls tend to reach adolescence or even adulthood before being diagnosed with ADHD; however, once you factor in the girls that went undiagnosed as children, the numbers of males vs. females struggling with ADHD even out.
For boys, ADHD generally presents with more in-your-face symptoms. These can include jumping out of their seat in class, talking out of turn, hyperactive arguments with peers, running, climbing, and jumping inappropriately, and other very noticeable behaviors that usually alert their parents or teachers to a potential problem. Therefore, boys are more likely to be evaluated for ADHD at an earlier age.
Girls, by contrast, are more likely to present with less noticeable symptoms such as daydreaming, doodling, difficulty staying organized, excessive talking, and difficulty with social cues and social interaction. Girls also have a greater tendency to overcompensate for their ADHD. An example of this would be if your daughter has a water bottle that they are allowed to have in class but struggle with keeping track of it, they may opt not to drink water all day to avoid taking it out of their backpack so they can’t lose it. These symptoms in girls are often overlooked as people assume the girl is just ditzy, distracted, hormonal, or airheaded.
“ADHD is caused by consuming too much sugar, bad parenting, or watching too much television.”
Often, when people see a child with ADHD who is being disruptive, hyper, or loud, they think that the cause of that behavior is a lack of discipline on the part of the parents. However, studies have shown that biological and environmental factors can contribute to an ADHD Diagnosis. ADHD is a medical condition, and the brain of a child with ADHD does not function in the same ways as a neurotypical child. In many cases, a parent punishing their child for behaviors related to ADHD can be even more detrimental. However, professional intervention and psychotherapy can help children and their parents learn new techniques and skills to help reduce symptoms of ADHD.
“ADHD is a standalone disorder.”
At one time, doctors believed that ADHD was a standalone disorder, meaning not commonly occurring with other diagnoses. More recent studies have shown that this is not the case. Nearly 50% of people diagnosed with ADHD will also be diagnosed with a comorbid or secondary disorder such as a learning disorder, mood disorders, anxiety, and depression. A comorbid disorder is an ongoing issue separate from ADHD but is chronic, pervasive, and present in multiple settings. A secondary condition develops as a result of ADHD symptoms and usually will dissipate with the proper treatment of the ADHD symptoms. Studies have shown that some common comorbid conditions include depression, anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), learning disabilities, and Bipolar Disorder.
“Bipolar Disorder and ADHD share many common symptoms.”
This statement is actually true. While only approximately 20% of people diagnosed with ADHD will also have a Bipolar Disorder diagnosis, nearly 60% of those diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder will also have an ADHD diagnosis. The main difference between Bipolar Disorder and ADHD is that Bipolar is a mood disorder while ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder. Bipolar disorder is characterized by episodes of very high highs (mania/hypomania) and very low lows (depression). These episodes generally last several days or weeks and occur as often as a few times a year to every few weeks.
ADHD is a chronic disorder, and the symptoms are consistent. People with ADHD don’t experience the cycle of moods like those with Bipolar Disorder.
These two conditions are often confused because when a person with Bipolar Disorder is in a manic state, they may exhibit some of the same symptoms as those with ADHD, such as hyperactivity, excessive talking, interrupting, distractibility, inattention, and impulsivity.
However, it is crucial that a person have an accurate diagnosis to receive the proper treatment. ADHD is often treated with stimulants, while if a person struggling with Bipolar Disorder were to take stimulants, that could, in many cases, make their illness worse. A proper diagnosis by a professional is vital to make sure that the appropriate treatment is prescribed.
How do I know if my child struggles with ADHD if they aren’t displaying the more common symptoms?
Some great resources are available to help parents determine if they need to have their child evaluated for ADHD. ADDitude Magazine has compiled the following eight questions that you can ask your child. Record their answer (yes or no). If your child answers yes to most of these questions, you should bring that information with you to talk to your child’s doctor about setting up an evaluation.
Do you often feel like crying but don’t know why?
Do you experience a lot of headaches or stomach aches?
Are you scared of being called on in class because you aren’t listening well?
Do you often feel like you want to join a group of kids, but you don’t know what to say?
Do you avoid raising your hand in class even when you have something to say?
Do you worry a lot?
Does it feel like sometimes other kids don’t like you, and you don’t know why?
Do you get upset and angry more than other kids? Do your feelings change a lot?
Our therapists at Georgetown Counseling and Wellness are all trained to work with ADHD symptoms in both children and adults. Contact us today at 512-400-4247 for a free 10-minute consultation or to schedule an appointment.