ADHD Myths & Facts

“Does Everyone Have ADHD? No. And Why It Hurts When Neurotypicals Claim an ‘ADHD Moment’”

“When neurotypical people say that they are ‘so ADHD,’ they perpetuate a stereotype — not only about what ADHD is (we can’t get it together), but also about how minimally it manifests (forgetting purses and spacing during meetings).”

Couple fighting about if ADHD is real.
Couple fighting about if ADHD is real.

“I’m so ADHD,” people say. “I just can’t get it together today.”

“Oooh, look, a squirrel!”

“Doesn’t everyone have ADHD these days?”

You’ve probably heard flip comments like these. I have. And if you’ve heard them enough, maybe you’ve internalized them as I have.

Do I really have ADHD? I’ve wondered this more than once (I definitely have ADHD). Maybe you hesitate to share your diagnosis with others, because, as happened to a recent contestant on The Bachelor, they might listen to you, nod their heads, and then say, behind your back, “ADHD, my ass.” Maybe you’ve stored up shame about your disorder since you’re so distractible that — look! A squirrel!

Maybe someone’s laughed about your ADHD diagnosis and said that ADHD’s a great way to get your hands on some amphetamines. Your face burned because you need that medication, and people act like you’ve found a legal loophole to use street drugs. If you’re in college, maybe someone has offered to buy your pills. And when you said, “No,” they glared.

These slurs and misunderstandings take a real toll on our self-esteem. While many of us with ADHD are open about our disorder, some of us are afraid to speak up; we worry about our job prospects (or even relationship prospects), and we even feel that if we just tried harder, maybe we wouldn’t “act so ADHD.” Those voices, and the myths they perpetuate, become echoes of our long-ago teachers and frustrated parents that reveal all of our most tender insecurities.

ADHD Myth #1: Neurotypical People Are Sometimes “So ADHD”

No, you don’t get free rein to claim a condition. (After all, you wouldn’t say you’re “having a diabetic moment.”) Yet neurotypical people “claim” ADHD all the time, and it speaks to ways we’re misunderstood and minimized. ADHD is much more than “I forgot my purse this morning” or “I keep spacing out during boring meetings.”

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When neurotypical people complain that they’re “so ADHD,” they perpetuate a stereotype — not only about what ADHD is (we can’t get it together), but also about how minimally it manifests (forgetting purses and spacing during meetings). It neglects so much of our diagnosis, from rejection sensitivity dysphoria to hyperfocus and from analysis paralysis to time blindness. The stereotypes also skip over our social difficulties and anxiety.

ADHD Myth #2: It’s Always a Squirrel

Instead of the aforementioned complicated stew, our condition narrows to one focus: Mild and sudden distraction. “I’m having an ADHD moment,” a neurotypical person might say. Really? Try having an ADHD life. It’s much different than a moment of “Look! A squirrel!” (Why is it always a squirrel and never, say, a butterfly, a janitor, or a freight train?).

I wish my ADHD only caused mild and sudden distraction. Life would be so much easier. I wouldn’t fall down the rabbit holes of Instagram. My hyperfocus wouldn’t feel quite so much like missing time. I wouldn’t cry when my husband mentions taking out the garbage because I have rejection sensitivity dysphoria, and I think he means that I should have taken out the garbage; why haven’t I taken out the garbage already; and I am a terrible person who cannot keep a house clean.

But, no, those flip comments reduce ADHD to sudden, childish distractibility. No wonder everyone minimizes our disorder. Do they really think we take drugs to stop that?

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Myth #3: Everyone Has ADHD These Days

Now that more people (especially women) are getting accurate diagnoses, I hear this a lot. “Oh my God, everyone says they have ADHD. You know those kids in school only do it for extra time on the SATs,” people tell me.

Aside from cheating the SAT (a vanishingly rare occurrence), why would people falsely claim to have ADHD? Is it trendy or cool to have a diagnosis that makes people lob epithets like “spaz,” “hyper,” and “too much?”

Yeah, that makes sense.

Myth #4: ADHD Is “A Little Kid Issue”

This one got tossed around on The Bachelor, too. It’s extremely harmful to adults who have finally been diagnosed to invalidate their medical condition. We’ve spent an entire life — especially late-diagnosed women — being told we’re lazy, crazy space cadets who talk too much. We just need to try harder.

My husband and I, both diagnosed at a late age, once had a heart-breaking conversation comparing our teachers’ misunderstandings. “If you’d only try harder, you’d be at the top of your class,” they’d say. “Why do you keep making careless mistakes? You need to check your work.”

Saying it’s a little kid disorder invalidates all that pain.

My husband’s students play a game: They ask a question that has nothing to do with class and see how much time they can burn. They know that my husband’s ADHD, which he’s open about, can lead to a 10-minute digression on ancient cephalopods.

Before I was diagnosed, I kept forgetting that I needed to give my kids lunch, and by the time they said they were hungry, they were miserable, angry messes. We are adults. We have ADHD.

And it’s hurtful to kids when people assume they’ll “grow out of it.” While it can seem as if they do, the reality is that the challenges simply morph with time and age. This can lead to uncomfortable conversations. When I once mentioned that my son took methylphenidate, a family member asked, “Well, how long will he have to take that?”

“Maybe for the rest of his life,” I said.

He gave me a look that said I was clearly not making good medical decisions for my children.

Adults with ADHD have coped with enough judgment and stigma in our lives. We don’t need any more. Next time someone makes a squirrel joke, don’t give an embarrassed smile. Gently speak up instead. ADHD is much more than forgetting purses or spacing out. And people need to know it.

ADHD Myths & Truth: Next Steps

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4 Comments & Reviews

  1. This is just one man’s opinion, so take it FWIW. I think that this whole essay is wrong-headed from the start. There is no law that requires you to reveal this condition or ANY private physical or mental health condition, so why would you? What if you have gonorrhea? Would you wear a t-shirt that proclaims that? Uh, I didn’t think so.

    The education field is one of the rare occupations that understands and tolerates ADD/ADHD. I always worked at for-profit corporations in the electrical power industry. These are run by hard-ass dudes who have 0 tolerance for mistakes, missed deadlines or people who have a penchant for saying the wrong things in front of customers. I have seen many people get fired over this. HR managers look for and weed out any job candidates who MIGHT have this problem.

    Your secrets are your private business, so why risk your reputation and your job, especially in front of nervous bosses and jealous peers? I have worked as an engineer for over 40 years and I have seen it all, so I know what I’m talking about. And I survived by not being naive or lacking critical thinking skills.

    If you need help, get help and read ADDitude for its heartfelt counsel but don’t let your own mouth be your own worst enemy.

  2. Thank you for this article. I get so tired of mentioning I have ADHD, only to have neurotypical people dismiss it by saying “yeah, me too — I’m so forgetful!” or “I forgot my purse (or briefcase, or food, or whatever); this must be ADHD.” I’ve learned to just shrug it off, smile politely and move on. But it’s irritating because ADHD is a condition, not random forgetfulness or distraction.

  3. I don’t get it. Why start a fight if you don’t want a fight? So what if a normal person makes a condescending remark about ADHD? Making an issue about it will force you to explain it and then plead guilty to having this affliction. Your bosses will get nervous and your jealous coworkers will weaponize it.

    I once had an HR director tell me that he can fire or refuse to hire anyone he wants and make it all look legit. If your bosses find out that you have ADD/ADHD, be scared. If you should blurt out something stupid in a customer facing meeting, you should update your resume.

    A wise person knows when to engage in an argument and when to keep quiet.

  4. (1) I loathe being called a Neurotypical (NT) by anyone, whatever their mental disorder. It is rude, condescending, and discriminatory. One of the worst Disorders affected by the decision of psychiatrists who compiled the DSM 5 (2013) was to remove Asperger’s Syndrome and replace it with Autism Spectrum Disorder. On, there was suddenly a whole bunch of people “bragging” that they were high functioning on the ASD scale.

    (2)Many people with ADD/ADHD are very intelligent, often with an IQ above one or two standard deviations from the mean i.e., average IQ is 100, +1 sd = 115, +2 sd = 130. Their problem is that they don’t fit assembly line pedagogy in school. It is a rare teacher who tries to ascertain the learning styles of each of the children in their class of 30+ students.

    My son was diagnosed with ADHD co-morbid with paediatric bipolar disorder when he was about 10 y.o. 10 years later I needed to help with info for a criminal trial he was the defendant in. So I asked for his school file. I couldn’t believe they were talking about my son and I had to hold back the tears. He refused to take Ritalin or Dexamphetamine while in jail, because the hoodlum element would have stood over him for his meds. He has done well without medication. He has only had two incidents as an adult: the one which landed him in jail. and one in the workplace. He has no problems now, and doesn’t self-medicate with booze or dope, and has given up smoking.

    I don’t care if people are gay as long as they are not discriminated against.Likewise with people who are ADD/ADHD. What I have found is that they are very good working with their hands. They are better off having a trade rather than doing office work. This applies to girls also, but as 90% of people with ADD/ADHD are males, maybe girls can fly under the radar as long as they are taking their meds.

    If you are NOT taking your meds and you are NOT managing your ADD/ADHD well, you have to tell your employer for Workers’ Compensation purposes. If you react inappropriately to a situation in the workplace, you will (a) get arrested by the Police; (2) get fired.

    I have Depression. If I don’t take my SSRI antidepressant every morning, I know I will be “ratty” by lunch-time.

    People with ADD/ADHD are responsible for taking their meds plus whatever other treatment is recommended.

    I have deliberately overlooked stupid people who say they are having a ADHD moment. It is a load of horse manure. They don’t know what they are talking about and are trying to excuse their inappropriate behaviour in that moment.

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