ADHD Myths & Facts

“It Stops with Me:” The End of ADHD Stigma and Cruelty

A stigma is unjust and evil. But stewing about it won’t help. Banding together with other moms and families will.

Sit down for coffee to stand up against damaging adhd stigma

I had a surprise a while ago. I gave a talk to a business audience one evening on a subject unrelated to attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD). The room was filled with men and women, consultants, executives, all high achievers interested in learning what I knew about how to bring out the best in people in the workplace.

The surprise came after the talk was over. I stayed to answer questions and interact with the people I had just spoken to when a woman asked me if she could have a private moment.

We walked over to a corner of the room. She was a smartly dressed woman, looking to be in her early 50s. She looked me in the eye and asked, “Do you remember me? You diagnosed me with ADD a long time ago. You changed my life, and I want to thank you.”

I smiled and thanked her for thanking me. But that was not the surprise. “I also want to tell you that I saw you in a parking lot a few years ago. I wanted to come up and thank you then, but I decided not to, in case someone might recognize you and put two and two together and conclude that I had ADD. Isn’t that terrible?”

“No, it’s not terrible at all, but it is too bad. We all need to band together and stare down stigma, one person at a time.”

[Take This Test: Could You Have Adult ADHD or ADD?]

Changing the Way People Think Takes Generations

When you encounter stigma, prejudice, ignorance, or outright cruelty toward your child who has ADD, or toward another family member, it stings. I saw a patient in my office today, a man who had an IQ of 179 whose father told him every day how stupid he was. He was ashamed of his son because he had trouble reading and paying attention. He punished him in cruel and inhuman ways. This man went on to become a circuit court judge and a loving father of three. “It stops with me,” he said.

We have the truth on our side. There is talent embedded in ADHD and dyslexia. Just look at the brilliant and successful people who have those conditions. But changing societal attitudes takes generations. Just look at how long we’ve been fighting racism.

Correct ADD Misperceptions

When you encounter the ignorant mother who says your child is holding back the rest of the class and he ought to go to a school for handicapped children, follow Martin Luther King, Jr.’s advice: Hold back on your desire to clobber her and instead invite her out for coffee. Ask her, “Since you care enough to offer me your advice, could I invite you out for coffee and the chance to have a conversation so we can each learn about the other person’s point of view?”

We need to give voice to the children in the classrooms who are not being understood. We need to give support to the teachers who understand them but do not have the resources they need to help them. We need to educate the pediatricians who do the medical treatment of ADHD. There’s lots to do with the anger you feel.

Stewing about stigma won’t help, but banding together with other moms and families will.

[Get This Free Guide to Debunking Annoying ADHD Myths]

5 Ways to Fight Stigma

    1. Read ADDitude.
    2. Join CHADD.
    3. Log on to online chat rooms to correct myths about ADD.
    4. Become active in your schools, and stick up for kids who struggle.
    5. Champion kids with ADD who believe they’re stupid, and let them know that they have talent. They just have to find it.

[Read This Next: Coping With the Stigma of ADHD]

5 Comments & Reviews

  1. Dr. Hallowell,
    Can you please explain how you can write an article about ending ADHD stigma utilizing an example of an adult in a professional position so ashamed and embarrassed to admit her own ADHD to her peers – and yet not go on to offer insight on how adults can educate other adults ?

    I understand it starts when people are young – if we can begin educating within the schools will make it easier as they grow up. But the reality is we are still being told it’s best not to divulge your ADHD at work – for example when requesting accommodations. So on the one hand we are being told to put an end to the stigma… long as it’s not at work.

    “We need to give voice to the children (ADULTS) in the classrooms (IN THE WORKPLACE) who are not being understood.”
    “We need to give support to the teachers (EMPLOYERS) who understand them but do not have the resources they need to help them.”

    “ There’s lots to do with the anger you feel “. Is there ? Because as an adult with ADHD this feeling that it’s ok to have ADHD if you’re a kid and it’s your right to ask for the accommodations you need but once you become an adult ooh be careful who you tell at work and how much you ask for make sure it’s within reason. So what do I do with my angry confusion about all of this ?

    1. Ughhh! Story of my life. I am a masters level psychotherapist with ADHD. The most intolerant people I have found, are other therapists and psychotherapists. Have not worked since May. Employers have the least understanding and empathy. Even when the employers are the very people whose job it is to understand.

      1. HAH! I’ve lost my last 3 jobs because of my ADHD. (And the anxiety & depression that go with it, plus a mild sleep disorder and epilepsy.) . My last employer, I kid you not, said, “We shouldn’t have to accomodate space cadets like you.” The intolerance is universal, believe me. Don’t give up on your practice. YOU, at the very least, “get it.”

  2. I would absolutely agree that people who are educated about ADHD can also be some of the most intolerant people. What it goes to show is that deep down they either don’t really understand it or simply just don’t want to have to deal with someone who has it. Essentially, it comes across as “I understand that you have a problem that you need to work through and compensate for but I don’t want to have to deal with you while you struggle with it. Come back when you have it under control.” Sometimes we represent too much of a hassle for people who mean the world to us.

  3. Right on, Acceber016! With the possible sole exception of the medical practices, for-profit companies do not want to hear of mental illness problems, so get real. They will provide a larger cubicle for a wheelchair person but they will not tolerate what they perceive as inattentiveness and carelessness. Just as bad is having your peers treat you like you emit gamma radiation. So, take it from someone who has BTDT.

    I once got canned over this. That was several years ago before this ****ing disease even had a name. I am a middle aged dude and an engineering graduate. I have a well-paying job and have a good reputation as dedicated, hard-working and capable. Your boss is not your friend and I am aghast at people who recommend that ADD or ADHD people out themselves. These people are well-intentioned but incredibly naive IMHO.

    And don’t tell people to file a complaint with the State Fair Employment Commission. This is the age of limited government and so many of their investigators have been laid off that it may take years before they get to your case. Man up, keep your mouth shut and use the wise counsel of ADDitude on how to mitigate and disguise the outward symptoms of ADD or ADHD.

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