ADHD Myths & Facts

Searching for ADHD Facts Beneath Piles Of Myths

Even though attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is now a fairly common diagnosis, it continues to be misunderstood and misconstrued—caricatured by people who have it and many who don’t. ADHD expert Dr. Hallowell shares the common misconceptions he has heard over the years about what causes and cures ADHD.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD with stethoscope and medication.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD with stethoscope and medication.

I’ve spent a lot of time explaining attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) to people. It was called ADD when I learned about it, in 1981. Since then, I’ve probably logged hundreds of hours speaking about, reading about, writing about, and dreaming about ADHD. It may sound like a tedious life, but to me it’s a subject of endless fascination and considerable humor.

ADHD is a fairly common medical diagnosis now, a condition that most people have heard of. But it is still misunderstood, caricatured, and trivialized. A few people, like me, rhapsodize about it, but it is almost always misrepresented.

I took a stroll through the fun-house mirrors of my memory to bring you some common distortions.

ADHD Facts Overshadowed By Myths

Attention deficit distorter, one of my patients once called it, coining a term I’ve never forgotten. ADHD may or may not distort things, but people can’t agree on exactly what is distorted by it.

Mothers have told me that when they tell a friend — another mom, say — that their child was diagnosed with ADHD, they are showered with the sympathy and condolences one might offer someone whose child had been diagnosed with cancer or another dread disease. One said, “I don’t know what to say or feel. Do I get angry about the gross misunderstanding of ADHD, or do I thank her for her sympathetic intentions?”

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Children almost always get it wrong, if unintentionally. Their grapevine is loaded with bogus “information,” an Internet tsunami of bad and utterly unreliable data. The most outrageous misinformation I ever heard came from a 10-year-old boy, who started to cry when his parents and I talked about starting him on Ritalin. As he sat trembling, fighting the tears streaming down his cheeks, I asked if he could tell me why he was so upset at the prospect of taking Ritalin. He finally blurted out, “I heard that Ritalin makes your penis fall off!”

While that was the most colossally wrong “information” I’ve ever heard, there are many examples that come close:

  • ADHD is caused by radiation from the moon.”
  • “ADHD is due to parents who don’t tend to the religious instruction of their children.”
  • “Having ADHD means that you’ll never be able to have children.”
  • “ADHD is the precursor to becoming a serial killer.”

ADHD Facts: What Cures Attention Deficit Disorder?

Bogus treatments also make the list of colorful and inaccurate notions about ADHD:

  • “Apple cider vinegar, diluted in spring water, twice a day, cures ADHD.”
  • “Standing on your head for 15 minutes before you go to school or work will fix ADHD every time.”
  • “Eat raw eggs. Good for everything that ails you.”
  • “Colonics! Regular colonics cure everything, including ADHD.”

The most fertile subject for “creative” causes and treatments of ADHD is food — nutrition and nutraceuticals. I like to experiment on myself when I read about some new supplement or diet that purports to enhance focus and organization. Before my wife put a stop to it, I took more than 20 different supplements, drinks, potions, remedies, and cures before breakfast. If nothing else, I had the most expensive urine in Boston.

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The science has advanced by leaps and bounds since I first learned about ADD, and so have the old wives’ tales, myths, false claims, ridiculous theories, and lies. All of these are promulgated, mostly, on the Internet and social media, but also through books, articles, and hearsay.

If you want rubbish masquerading as truth, it’s out there. But if you want truth, you should rely on a few guides you trust. In my opinion, ADDitude magazine is one such guide.

ADHD Facts: Learn More

Dr. Ned Hallowell has ADHD himself and is a practicing psychiatrist and founder of the Hallowell Center for Cognitive and Emotional Health, outside Boston and in New York City. He is the author of 20 books, including Because I Come from a Crazy Family: The Making of a Psychiatrist. (#CommissionsEarned)

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