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ADHD Beyond the Basics and Common Misconceptions

Despite research suggesting that around 5% of children and 3% of adults are diagnosed with ADHD in the UK, many people still misunderstand the condition or believe outdated myths about the prevalence or veracity of ADHD. 

Here, we will cover the basics of ADHD and bust some of the myths that serve to further stigmatise a lifelong condition that currently has no permanent cure.

Introduction to ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder which usually presents itself during childhood. It may be characterised by symptoms of hyperactivity or inattentiveness, among others.  

ADHD is still being intensively researched and its causes and outcomes are not yet fully understood. It is thought to run in families, with research suggesting that a person with a parent or sibling with ADHD may be more likely to have it themselves. 

Other potential risk factors include:

  • Premature birth (before 37 weeks)
  • Low birth weight
  • Drug or alcohol abuse during pregnancy
ADHD Beyond the bascis

Types of ADHD and diagnosis

According to the NHS, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder can be divided into two types of behavioural problems:

  • Inattentive type
  • Hyperactive and impulsive type

Some patients will present with a combination of the above symptoms, sometimes referred to as combination type (which used to be referred to as ADD although this is increasingly considered an outdated term). 

Inattentive type ADHD may manifest as a person appearing to constantly daydream, struggling to focus for long periods of time or getting easily distracted. It can also cause issues with memory, organisation and motivation.

People with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD often show symptoms of restlessness and find it difficult to sit still or wait their turn. They may be extremely fidgety and act before thinking with little sense of consequence or danger. 

Between 2 to 3 people out of 10 with ADHD struggle to focus or concentrate but do not suffer with hyperactivity. This can make it more difficult to diagnose the condition as the symptoms may be more subtle. It is thought that this also leads to an underdiagnosis in girls, as they are more likely to suffer from inattentiveness and less likely to display disruptive behaviour.

Children will only receive a diagnosis of ADHD based on a strict set of criteria. For your child to be diagnosed with ADHD they need to display:

  • Six or more symptoms of inattentiveness
  • Six or more symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsiveness

They must also have been showing symptoms:

  • Consistently for 6+ months
  • Since they were under the age of 12
  • In at least two settings (to rule out the chances of the behaviour being a reaction to school rules, home life, parenting, etc.)
  • That make their academic, home or personal life more challenging
  • That cannot be diagnosed as another mental disorder or developmental phase

Diagnosing ADHD in adults can be more challenging. During your adult assessment for ADHD, you will be asked questions about your present symptoms and how they affect your life. To get an ADHD diagnosis, the symptoms you describe need to be having a negative impact on your life, such as:

  • Causing problems at work and in relationships
  • Failing or underachieving in education
  • Driving dangerously

Currently, it is not believed that ADHD can develop in adults, so you cannot receive a diagnosis unless you showed symptoms to some extent in childhood.

Beyond the basics: Understanding the impact of ADHD

ADHD can have an impact on different parts of people’s lives as adults, including:

  • Home life – planning ahead and keeping on top of housework and day-to-day living can sometimes be challenging if you live with ADHD. This can mean houses get cluttered, essential items get misplaced and finances end up in disarray. You may choose snacks and ready meals rather than organising and preparing healthy meals. People with ADHD may experience issues sticking to a bedtime routine or healthy sleep pattern.
  • Work – in the workplace, people suffering from ADHD may experience issues related to organisation, timekeeping, concentration and motivation. Around three-quarters of adults with ADHD have another mental health issue such as anxiety, mood disorder or ASD, all of which can also impact on their ability to function as expected at work.
  • Relationships and friendships – it can be frustrating being in a relationship with someone who appears consistently disorganised, forgetful or who relies on others to do things for them. This can make it difficult to maintain relationships if you are struggling with ADHD. Patients with ADHD are significantly more likely to divorce. Difficulty with concentrating, timekeeping and planning can be mislabelled as a lack of interest.
  • Education – further education can seem overwhelming for people with ADHD and continuing post-18 education (such as university) may be extra challenging for a person with ADHD. This can manifest as constant lateness to lectures, and issues with attendance, concentration or meeting deadlines. Without the right support, this can lead to students losing confidence, not getting the grades that match their ability or dropping out altogether.
  • Social life – many people with ADHD manage active social lives and make friends easily. Sometimes, people with ADHD may struggle to remain invested in conversations, interrupt or say inappropriate things. People with ADHD can get bored quickly or distracted: this might lead them to show initial enthusiasm for something new and then get bored quickly. Having ADHD can make it more difficult to keep in touch with others, arrive at places on time or reply promptly to messages, which can frustrate others.

Parenting a child who has ADHD can be especially challenging. You may find that routine activities are impacted by your child’s ADHD, such as:

  • Bedtimes (your child may struggle to get to sleep, maintain a good routine, wake up at night, etc.)
  • Getting ready to leave the house including getting ready for school
  • Following instructions
  • Shopping, eating out or socialising
  • Remembering homework and staying organised

It is vital to remember that your child’s behaviour, though challenging, is part of a neurological disorder. If you are struggling, reach out and seek support from those around you. If you are the parent of a child with ADHD, be sure to:

  • Speak to your GP for guidance on how to manage day-to-day life and how to distinguish ADHD symptoms from any other problems your child may have.
  • If your child takes medication make sure to read the label, understand how to distribute it and any side effects related to it.
  • Consider who else should know about your child’s diagnosis such as nursery, childminder or school and how they should be supporting your child.
  • Find any local support groups where you can connect with people with similar experiences (either in person or online).
  • Don’t assume that having a diagnosis is the end; it is actually the start of your journey of helping your child to navigate the world with ADHD.
  • Try not to put too much pressure on yourself or compare yourself to others. Take a break when you can and practise self-care.
ADHD in children

Common misconceptions about ADHD

There are a lot of misconceptions about ADHD out there. You may especially hear them perpetuated by those with a more traditional outlook saying that ‘There was no ADHD in my day, simply naughty children’, which is of course not the case. ADHD used to be undiagnosed and underdiagnosed. 

Here are eight common myths about ADHD explained:

Only children and young people can be diagnosed with ADHD. Sometimes, when ADHD was not recognised when someone was a child, they will receive a diagnosis later on in life during adulthood.

Once adults receive a diagnosis it often helps them to make sense of issues that they have experienced their whole lives and that may have been written off as laziness, disorganisation or lack of care.

ADHD is something that you usually grow out of. Many people who received a diagnosis of having ADHD as a child will continue to encounter difficulties associated with ADHD as adults, although symptoms do often improve with age.
All kids with ADHD are super energetic and hyperactive. Although hyperactivity is a symptom associated with ADHD, not all children with ADHD exhibit this type of behaviour.

One form of the condition primarily affects attention and has little impact on energy levels.

ADHD only affects boys. Boys are twice as likely to get a diagnosis but that is often due to ADHD being overlooked in girls and therefore underdiagnosed.

Symptoms of ADHD can manifest differently between girls and boys but the condition affects both genders.

There is a correlation between ADHD and poor parenting or lack of boundaries. ADHD is caused by brain differences and is not a result of parenting choices or environmental factors.
Medication can cure ADHD. Taking medication for ADHD is not appropriate for everyone (especially young children) and is only effective for the duration it is being taken. If you stop taking it, your symptoms will return.
ADHD is a learning difficulty. Although ADHD can present alongside learning difficulties, it is not directly responsible for specific learning problems (such as difficulty with spelling, reading etc).
ADHD is linked to having a poor diet. Research is ongoing into the relationship between diet, ADHD and vitamin/mineral deficiencies.

It is thought that taking supplements including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids may help. However, evidence of the effectiveness of this strategy is limited and should only be done under supervision of a GP or specialist.

Dispelling myths with scientific evidence

Although many people believe children with ADHD are a product of their environment or that they have bad parents, science does not support this. Despite the exact causes of ADHD not being fully understood, scientific research shows that it has a strong, neurobiological basis, meaning it is down to brain chemistry, not outside influence. 

In more than a third of cases, obvious symptoms of ADHD persist into adulthood, which does not support the theory that children simply grow out of having ADHD.

Trailblazing research by psychologists at the University of Bath is the first of its kind to show that adults with high levels of ADHD symptoms are more likely to show poor mental health outcomes than those with other neurodevelopmental conditions (including autism). 

The 2023 study had a sample size of 504 (49% male and 51% female) with results suggesting that severe ADHD is a potential predictor of future mental health struggles. The results of the research suggest that not only is ADHD a genuine condition, but that it is a significant risk factor for adults developing other mental health problems. Whether this is down to neurological factors, a lack of support in society for those with ADHD, or a combination of factors, is unclear. 

Strategies for supporting individuals with ADHD

Treatment for ADHD includes medication and therapy. A combination of the two is often the best course of action. Treatment is usually overseen by your GP and arranged by a specialist such as a paediatrician or psychiatrist. 

Currently, there are only five types of medicine licensed to treat ADHD. These are:

  • Methylphenidate
  • Lisdexamfetamine
  • Dexamphetamine
  • Atomoxetine
  • Guanfacine

Most ADHD medicines are stimulants. They work by increasing activity in the brain, especially to the parts that control behaviour, impulsivity and decision-making. Atomoxetine works differently to other ADHD meds. It is a selective noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) which increases the amount of a chemical called noradrenaline, which passes messages between cells in the brain. 

Most ADHD medicine is available for children over the age of five. The use of prolonged medication to control behaviour in children and teens is controversial and parents are usually advised to begin with low doses. Some children may be advised to only take their medicine on school days.

ADHD medication comes with side effects ranging from nausea and headaches to problems sleeping, drowsiness and even aggression

Some people opt to treat ADHD with therapy in addition to medication or do not take medication at all. Non-drug-related options to help support people with ADHD include:

  • Psychoeducation – this is said to help children and teens to understand their condition and learn to navigate life with it by encouraging them to talk about their symptoms and challenges.
  • Behaviour Therapy – this usually involves behavioural management plans which may consist of a ‘reward system’ to encourage positive behaviour and get your child to manage their ADHD symptoms as far as possible. It can be a useful tool for parents, carers and teachers to try.
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – a form of talking therapy that helps you to break problems down into smaller parts and reframe the way you think, react and behave.
  • Social Skills Training – this can be useful for children who need practical guidance on how to behave in certain situations. It involves learning through acting out and role-play activities.

Parents may also benefit from taking part in training or education programmes designed to teach strategies that help with: 

  • Behaviour management
  • Communication
  • Concentration

This training may be offered to parents before their child has received a formal diagnosis. These education programmes are usually run as group sessions, consisting of two-hour meetings for up to 16 weeks. It can help parents to build their confidence, increase their awareness around ADHD and develop skills to help improve their relationship with their child.

child with adhd

Promoting awareness and empathy 

Increasing awareness around conditions such as ADHD helps to reduce the stigma around it. Education on the subject is important to dispel the myths that still exist around ADHD and promote understanding, empathy and acceptance. 

It is important to promote inclusivity around neurodivergence or difference in educational settings, workplaces and in wider society to create a safe and diverse space for us all to thrive. 

It is also important for people who have ADHD to understand that although it is a condition that they live with, it does not have to be a barrier to achieving success at work or school, or to finding meaningful relationships and living a full life. 

If you have ADHD, you should take advantage of support systems available to you and know that the condition is nothing to be ashamed of, nor is it something that you need to hide. Find which strategies and coping mechanisms work for you, whether that is therapy, medicine, making adjustments to your personal and professional life, or a combined approach.

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About the author

Vicky Miller

Vicky Miller

Vicky has a BA Hons Degree in Professional Writing. She has spent several years creating B2B content and writing informative articles and online guides for clients within the fields of sustainability, corporate social responsibility, recruitment, education and training. Outside of work she enjoys yoga, world cinema and listening to fiction podcasts.

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