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“Having ADHD and Taking Medicine for It is Nothing to Be Ashamed Of”

Simone Biles, America’s sweetheart and recent winner of 5 Olympic medals in gymnastics, publicly addressed her ADHD this week after hackers exposed the 19 year old’s private medical information. And her response was loud and clear: ADHD is “nothing to be ashamed of.”

September 14, 2016

This week, celebrated American gymnast Simone Biles was thrust back into the spotlight when a group of Russian hackers broke into the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) database and exposed her (and other athletes’) confidential medical records. It turns out that Biles was diagnosed with ADHD as a child, and continues to treat her symptoms with methylphenidate (Ritalin), a stimulant medication used by approximately 2 million people everyday.

The attackers’ motive was clear: to accuse Biles of cheating in the 2016 Rio Olympics by using a medication that gave her an unfair leg up against the competition. Medical experts, USA Gymnastics, and the athlete herself have issued strong, passionate responses.

In a press release issued September 13, USA gymnastics confirmed that Biles submitted and was approved for a therapeutic-use exception in order to continue taking methylphenidate, a prescribed medication on the World Anti-Doping Agency Prohibited Drug List. In other words, Biles has broken no rules or regulations; her medals are not in jeopardy.

Medical contributor to Good Morning America, Dr. Jennifer Ashton recently said she believes Biles’ medication would not give an Olympic athlete an edge over competitors, and she hopes the silver lining to this privacy breach is better understanding and acceptance of ADHD. “There is no shame in the ADHD game,” she said. “If you had high blood pressure, you would treat it. The more we talk about ADHD as just a medical condition, the less stigma it has to have. A lot of people suffering with it feel embarrassment, they feel shame, and that has to stop.”

Biles now joins the public ranks of two other Olympic gold medalists with ADHD: shot put thrower Michelle Carter, and swimming legend Michael Phelps. Shortly after hackers exposed her medical files, Biles took to Twitter to say, “I have ADHD and I have taken medicine for it since I was a kid. Please know, I believe in clean sport, have always followed the rules, and will continue to do so as fair play is critical to sport and is very important to me.”

“Having ADHD, and taking medicine for it is nothing to be ashamed of nothing that I’m afraid to let people know.”

People with ADHD commonly experience shame and judgment by a misinformed public that mistakes its real, medical symptoms for bad behavior, poor parenting, or ‘just not trying hard enough.’ These feelings of failure and embarrassment can prevent people with ADHD from seeking an evaluation and treatment that could help their brains function more effectively.

Common symptoms of ADHD include trouble concentrating, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Methylphenidate is the most commonly prescribed medication used to manage ADHD since 1956. Contrary to boosting performance, methylphenidate may cause loss of appetite, nervousness, trouble sleeping, shortness of breath, or increased heart rate, none of which are positive for an athlete. When used to treat ADHD, the medication helps the neurotransmitters in the brain work normally to restore neurotypical levels of focus, movement, and impulse control. It does not create a ‘high’ or elevated level of brain chemistry for people with ADHD; rather, it allows them to achieve the same level of performance as people without the condition.

The actions of the hackers tried to capitalize on outdated stigmas and misperceptions, and tarnish an Olympian’s proud moment. The response from the medical community is clear: ADHD is not shameful. Stimulant medication is an appropriate and fully tested medical treatment. And Biles is a world-class athlete who just happens to have ADHD.

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