Talking About ADHD

“Is ADHD Real?” How to Respond to Doubters with Tact and Facts

It boggles the mind, but people still question the validity of an attention deficit diagnosis. When a stranger attacks ADHD, it can make your blood boil. But when it’s friends and family? Read on for advice.

A group of ADHD adults proudly hold up a sign to indicate that ADHD is real.
A group of ADHD adults proudly hold up a sign to indicate that ADHD is real.
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Explaining ADHD (Again)

You've told them once. You've told them a thousand times. Your child has ADHD, and they just don't get it, or don't believe in it. It's an unfair judgement of her behavior and your parenting skills. While you already know you're not doing anything wrong, how can you convince your family and friends to believe that ADHD is real, too?

Student Surrounded By Classmates Holding Question Mark Signs
Student Surrounded By Classmates Holding Question Mark Signs
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Kinds of Doubters

The best way to silence skeptics? It depends on the type of doubts they're raising:

  • The Skeptic: Denies the existence of ADHD
  • The Crusader: Insists she would never give her kids meds
  • The Joker: Covers his ADHD barbs with a veil of humor
  • The Ostrich: Pretends nothing's wrong even in the face of evidence
  • The Voice of Doom: Sees a bleak future for anyone with ADHD
Be happy, not sad! ADHD is real.
Positive Feedback Simile face icon
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Don't Buy Into Negativity

Don’t believe the negative remarks, or let them keep you from fighting for your child's needs. Your child’s mind is wired a little differently, but he can still learn and succeed just like any other child. Lots of brilliant and successful people have had ADHD.

[Quiz: ADHD Myth or ADHD Reality?]

People may question, "Is ADHD real?" Now you know how to answer.
hand holding up a question mark from the right
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Ask Questions

If you're wondering why people refuse to believe, ask them Why or What questions like, “Why don’t you believe what we’re telling you?” “What is it specifically that’s bothering you?” It might be that your mother-in-law's sensitivity stems from the fact that your son's behavior brings back difficult memories of your husband as a child. Knowing why can help you figure out how to bring them around to your side.

Female student holding a book about how ADHD is real.
Female student holding a book about how ADHD is real.
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Speak the Truth

Take a just-the-facts approach. You can provide doubters with fact sheets, books, or websites (like ADDitude!) to read. Make reference to doctor's appointments and diagnostic tests. It's hard to argue with the cold, hard truth.

Investigation of daily health conditions, like ADHD.
Investigation of daily health conditions.
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The ADHD Facts

The NIH and the American Psychological Association have concluded that ADHD is a real medical condition, and a body of research indicates that it affects 5-10% of children and 3-6% of adults. It's listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the “bible” of mental-health professionals. AND the U.S. Dept. of Education requires educational institutions to provide special accommodations for ADHD students (it’s a LAW!). How could anyone argue with that?

Two men in living room talking about if ADHD is real.
Two men in living room talking about if ADHD is real.
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Try Sarcasm

People who don’t believe in ADHD have probably never encountered it firsthand. They may not understand this: If children could exert the control necessary to conform, they would. No child would choose to be isolated and punished constantly. When people aren't getting the message, a well-placed sarcastic comment can help them see the silliness of their doubts, "Gosh, it must be nice to be smarter than thousands of doctors, scientists and psychologists.”

[Free Handout: 7 Myths About ADHD...Debunked!]

Doctor writing prescription for ADHD
Doctor writing prescription for ADHD
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Draw a Comparison

When people cast judgment for medicating kids, draw a parallel. Say, “Would you deny insulin to a child who had diabetes? Then why should I withhold appropriate medication from my child?” Make it clear that you've thought the medication plan through, it's not a cause for shame, and doesn’t make you a lazy or incompetent parent. It would be a crime not to give your kids every resource available to enable their success.

Couple fighting about if ADHD is real.
Couple fighting about if ADHD is real.
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Change the Subject

Hurtful comments from friends and relatives can make you feel wounded and resentful.Then your defenses go up, and relationships can be strained. Talking about ADHD with doubters can feel as touchy as talking about politics or religion. While a swift kick in the rear might feel more satisfying, if you've explained it to no result before so try changing the subject to a more neutral topic the next time it comes up.

Friends drinking coffee and talking together about if ADHD is real.
Friends drinking coffee and talking together about if ADHD is real.
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Offer Guidance

Instead of debating what's right and wrong, start by explaining the ADHD symptoms. Then point out how their comments are incorrect, why your child can't just change it, and what you're doing as a family to help. Then ask the person to try rooting for your child instead.

Young couple discussing ADHD with a doctor
Young couple discussing ADHD with a doctor
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Be Direct

Use selective silence – choose not to respond when you sense someone is being nasty. Or, be direct, and say, “When you say X, I feel Y.” Tell people, that all of your energy has to go into helping your child and family. Ask them to keep comments and opinions to themselves if they can’t be totally supportive. Don’t feel like you need to apologize or defend what you’re doing. Tell them they need to trust that you’re working with the right specialists and making the best decisions you can.

ADHD adult delegating some tasks to colleagues at work
ADHD adult delegating some tasks to colleagues at work
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Take Action

If the doubter is at work, move up the chain of command or consider speaking with a lawyer. If it's a grandparent or relative, let them know they won't be able to see your child unless you're there. If it's a spouse or ex-spouse, remind them that “This is not about you or how you feel about ADHD. It’s about our child, and what we need to do for her.” Solicit legal advice if necessary. If it's a teacher, schedule a meeting and get the support of your principal and school nurse.

Mother with daughter with ADHD (8-10) relaxing on sofa with dog, smiling
Mother with daughter (8-10) relaxing on sofa with dog, smiling
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Focus on Your Immediate Family

Friends and extended family are only a part of your life. While you can hope that skeptics will see the light, and ostriches will pull their heads out of the sand, several studies show that the loving acceptance of parents can be the most important factor for teens with ADHD in dealing with symptoms. Focus on showing your love and support as a family to give your child hope, and help make ignoring any criticism a little easier.

[Accept Them. Support Them. Have Their Backs.]