Overcoming the ADHD Stigma

An expert psychologist shares his secrets for fighting ADD ADHD stereotyping in children and adults.

Stigma, Part 2

What else can ADDers do to counteract the effects of stereotyping?

The more aware you are of stereotyping, the easier it is to recognize when it is affecting you. Take racism. Research has shown that, if people understand that they were snubbed or rejected for a job because of discrimination, their self-esteem stays high. They realize that they are not at fault, the system is.

Of course, it’s also important to recognize that negative feedback about oneself is occasionally valid — and valuable. If you believe that all criticism leveled at you is the result of stereotyping, you’ll be less motivated to seek appropriate treatment.

Taking positive action is another way to avoid the toxic effects of stereotyping. Joining others in the struggle to do away with discrimination is empowering. So, when you encounter biased, belittling portrayals of ADDers in the media, write a letter to the people responsible for those portrayals.

If you’re not already involved with advocacy groups, like CHADD and ADDA, consider getting involved. Or contact your elected representatives to ask them to consider needed policy changes, such as parity. This means putting insurance coverage for mental health problems, like ADHD, on an equal footing with coverage for physical illnesses.

What can parents do to help protect their ADHD children?

If you’re the parent of a child with ADHD, make sure that he or she understands what that means. ADHD should never be used as an excuse, but it probably explains why your child has trouble doing certain things, and why she or he might have to work a little harder than other kids to get the same results.

Make sure your child’s school understands that ADHD is a legitimate disorder — and that it may be legally obligated to provide accommodations.

How or when should you reveal a diagnosis of ADHD?

It’s a dilemma. If you conceal the fact that you have ADHD, you avoid the ADHD label and the discrimination that can lead to. However, you risk a kind of indirect discrimination. People who notice you being disorganized, impulsive, or forgetful might assume that you are simply rude or lazy.

When is the right time to talk to your boss about your ADHD? When to tell a new friend? It’s a judgment call, and timing is crucial. If your employer has a reputation of being good about providing accommodations, for example, you might broach the subject. Otherwise, it might be better to keep it quiet, at least until you get established in your job. Advice from a therapist or consultant can be helpful.

There’s no need to tell everyone that you or a loved one has ADHD. But if you feel you shouldn’t tell anyone, you’re wasting energy — and reducing the likelihood that you will get treatment.

Secrecy fuels feelings of shame. Better to seek out people and places that make secrecy unnecessary, and open up.


This article comes from the April/May 2007 issue of ADDitude.

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