ADHD Guide

Why ADHD Is Different for People of Color

“Raising awareness of the unique challenges facing people of color with ADHD is one small but important step in addressing this systemic issue. For many individuals, knowing that ADHD could be the reason behind their struggles can put them on a path to seek help and improve their outcomes.”

Racial disparities in ADHD diagnosis and treatment

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) and all of its various symptoms almost universally complicate and encumber life for those who have it. While diagnosis at any age is helpful, early detection can make coping significantly easier, as it allows individuals to get the help they need to properly manage ADHD much sooner.

Unfortunately, racial disparities in diagnosis and treatment of ADHD are rampant. White children are much more likely to be diagnosed than are children of color, who are continually underdiagnosed for ADHD. These inequities and their related consequences cause hardships for years and even lifetimes, as patients remain unaware that ADHD is a root cause of their challenges. Coupled with the barriers and systemic inequalities already facing people of color, the unique challenges of undiagnosed ADHD can lead to disastrous consequences.

ADHD Necessitates Support

ADHD is a brain disorder that impacts executive functioning, the skills we use to plan and execute our everyday lives. As a result, individuals with ADHD are often disorganized, have trouble staying focused, and struggle to complete everyday tasks. With ADHD, life itself is more of a challenge.

Proper treatment is absolutely crucial to managing ADHD. Without tools and supports, or even a diagnosis, problems in the life of someone with ADHD can steadily grow to insurmountable heights. Putting in the work with a qualified medical professional allows many individuals to manage symptoms and take control of their lives. The value of that support cannot be overstated.

Why ADHD Is Different for People of Color

ADHD presents across all races and ethnicities. Yet the challenges of living with ADHD are simply not equal due to a variety of factors:

1. Lack of Diagnosis and Treatment

An ADHD diagnosis is an essential lifeline for people looking to pull themselves out of the slog of symptoms and challenges. It is even more helpful when received in childhood, unlocking ADHD treatment and management strategies from a young age.

[Free Download: What a Thorough ADHD Diagnosis Looks Like]

But time and time again, white children receive the diagnosis they need and children of color don’t. Clinicians often overlook symptoms of ADHD in Black and Latino children. Without a diagnosis in childhood, it often takes decades for an individual to fully understand the root of their symptoms.

Undiagnosed ADHD leaves people of color without necessary support. At the same time, comorbid mental health issues, like mood disorders or anxiety, may be exacerbated. It is not uncommon for individuals with undiagnosed and untreated ADHD to struggle in practically all domains of life.

2. ADHD Stigma and Medical Mistrust in POC Communities

Medical professionals’ failure to identify ADHD in people of color is a significant issue. But also posing a barrier to diagnosis and treatment is the stigma and medical mistrust prevalent in communities of color.

[Read: ADHD Clinicians Must Consider Racial Bias in Evaluation and Treatment of Black Children]

In many of these communities, “mental toughness” is praised. That means that seeking help and support for challenges is seen as a proclamation of weakness. This reluctance pairs with a belief that the symptomatic behaviors of ADHD can be “fixed” with parenting techniques – not professional support. To cement this belief, many families recall “going through worse” without getting any help at all.

Within Black communities, medical mistrust has deep and pervasive roots. We need look no further than to the history of the medical field itself to see that it has repeatedly destroyed trust among communities seeking help. When minorities have most needed medical assistance, they have often found themselves ignored or blatantly mistreated. Medical mistrust is one barrier that will not be easy to address, but if people don’t start speaking up and making change now, children of color will continue to go undiagnosed, untreated, and underserved for ADHD.

3. Inadequate Resources to Manage ADHD

For people of color with ADHD, these medical inequities create one primary challenge: failure to properly treat one of the most treatable disorders of psychiatry. Without knowledge, support, and treatment to manage ADHD symptoms, the results can be catastrophic. .

These children of color grow up not only facing the racism and discrimination that still exists in our society, but facing them with undiagnosed ADHD and symptoms they don’t understand. All of these stressors can open them up to additional mental and physical health problems. Without proper management of ADHD, the chances of success in life drop precipitously.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Making ADHD an Easier Challenge to Face

Raising awareness of the unique challenges facing people of color with ADHD is one small but important step in addressing this systemic issue. For many individuals, knowing that ADHD explains their struggles can put them on a path to seek help and improve their outcomes. And if the possibility of ADHD is considered more often for children of color, more kids may start to get the help they need to achieve their highest potential.

Addressing bias and confronting stigma is absolutely part of the effort to increase the quality of ADHD care, from diagnosis to treatment, for children and adults of color that have been overlooked.

When the right efforts are made, people of color can begin to receive treatment for their ADHD – and thrive.

Health Disparities in ADHD Diagnosis & Treatment: Next Steps


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