Who Do You Tell About Your ADHD?
The choice to reveal an ADHD diagnosis is a private — and often nuanced — one that ultimately comes down to one thing: stigma. Those who feel compelled to destroy the misperceptions and myths that once haunted them talk openly about their ADHD. Those who find the stereotypes too pervasive or hurtful to battle tend to remain quiet. And many, many ADDitude readers find themselves somewhere in the middle, according to a recent survey.
Science does not lie. And science has told us, time and time again, that ADHD is real. It is a neurobiological condition with real, measurable symptoms that manifest in life-altering ways from childhood through adulthood. We have the studies and footnotes to prove this, however the myths and stigma persist.
Some people continue to falsely believe — and insist, loudly — that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) is a fake disorder, or an excuse for bad behavior, or a pharmacological fairy tale. None of these things is true, but that doesn’t change the fact that enduring stigma impacts how and whether adults with ADHD choose to share their diagnosis.
In a recent ADDitude survey, we learned that most readers fall into one of two camps: those who keep their diagnosis private for fear of facing prejudice or ignorance; and those who talk openly about their ADHD in order to belie the myths and educate those who continue to spread them.
Below is a collection of powerful comments from ADDitude readers. Share your experience in the Comments section below.
Talk About My ADHD? No Way
“I’ve told very few people about my diagnosis. I know ADHD is nothing to be ashamed of, but I’m afraid of what people will think.” – Liz
“I absolutely do not share my diagnosis. As a ‘high-functioning’ female with ADHD in my mid-50s, I’ve been able to rise to executive business roles in Fortune 150 companies and work the front lines in health care due to grad school accommodations and medication. As one ascends the corporate ladder, there are fewer people with ADHD. I have found that most people at the top carry false, stereotypical beliefs about ADHD – ones that lead to bias, patronizing, and discrimination. Yet we are the very people who are able to advance stalled businesses with brilliant out-of-the box ideas and run circles around neurotypicals in a crisis.” – Sidney
[Myth or Reality? Test Your ADHD Knowledge]
“I have largely kept it to myself. I am still somewhat ashamed to let people know that I have ADHD and am working on getting more comfortable with that.” – an ADDitude reader
“I’ve seen people fired from work because they were suspected of having a mental illness. Revealing your ADHD to your boss will confirm their suspicions and sign a death warrant on your career. This will also leak out to your co-workers and you will be the victim of a whispering campaign; no one will want to associate with you… If you need help, get help. Learn how to hide your symptoms lest you become marginalized.” – John
“I only tell those in my life who I feel need to know. I’ve had too many experiences with people judging me for my diagnosis.” – Jess
“I tried sharing my ADHD diagnosis with the ones I love, and they feel I am using it as a crutch or excuse for my mistakes in our relationships.” – E
“I don’t and won’t likely ever have a diagnosis as I live in a small town with no diagnostics available to me. But I don’t tell anyone about my suspicions because I feel it looks like I am making excuses for my bad habits.” – Nikki
[Could I Have ADHD? The Complete Guide for Adults]
“I am an adult female who received an ADD diagnosis two years ago. I have kept this to myself because I am not sure how to share it, especially with my employer. I sometimes struggle with meeting administrative tasks and worry that it paints an inaccurate picture of me. I wonder: If my employer knew about my medical diagnosis and how it manifests, would it help them understand better why I am sometimes behind? But if I’m transparent I also fear that I would not receive any consideration and instead be judged unfairly.” – an ADDitude reader
Talk About My ADHD? All Day
“I shout it to the world — specially other women. I’ve been down on myself for so long; realizing that I have undiagnosed ADHD has flipped my inner narrative. I’m not a lazy excuse for a human being; I’m a person with different mental functioning who has achieved SO MUCH in spite of my different-than-normal mental abilities. I graduated from college, have six children whom I homeschool, and I work part-time. Our house isn’t always clean, but it’s not always dirty either, and we are living within our budget most of the time. I have figured out how to listen to my body and still be productive most of the time. Accepting my brain for what it is is critical to not being depressed and dysfunctional all the time.” – Patty
“I wear my ADHD badge with pride and use any chance I get to talk about it. I have only benefited from sharing my story‚ even when it has meant losing my job. (Turns our that I was being emotionally manipulated for more than a decade, so I feel so free!) Sharing my ADHD has helped me start many a conversation and bring a new level of honesty to friendships. I’m a 43-year-old, 5th generation Chinese American speech language pathologist and mom of 2 boys, so sharing my ADHD definitely dispels many myths and stereotypes. It has helped me understand and share my faith also. I know that God has made me this way for a very specific reason… which seems to reveal itself with each wondrously serendipitous mishap.” – Alex
“I tell people as much as possible. Part of my reason for getting a diagnosis (female with a doctorate aged 50 diagnosed after my daughter was diagnosed at 14) was to let people know that ADHD is real and it isn’t just an excuse for bad parenting/naughty boys.” – an ADDitude reader
“As an educator, I often mention my ADHD and dyslexia because I almost always have students dealing with one or both. I want students (and their parents) to know that I understand how they feel and will try to help them rather than criticize them.” – Rivy
“I recently got diagnosed with ADHD and I am sharing it with everyone. I have already had a couple of friends who shared later with me that I helped them recognize it in themselves or that they now have a better understanding of a loved one who has ADHD. I am on a mission to make it an open discussion with no hints of shame, hiding, or embarrassment!” – Jackie
“I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 51 and in my second year of law school (and both of my young adult children were diagnosed!). I tell everyone and talk openly about my experience because, as a woman who lived undiagnosed for so long and considering all of the mental health challenges I experienced as a direct result of not knowing I simply had a differently wired brain, I want to normalize talking about all of the ways ADHD can exhibit itself. I am also trying to show others that ADHD has no bearing on someone’s intelligence, isn’t always physically hyperactive (I say it’s like my brain has multiple radios playing in it all day and my focus goes from one to the other kind of randomly all throughout the day!) and that it can hide, especially in women and girls.” – Christina
“As times have gotten more accepting of mental disorders, I’ve learned to be more open about my ADD to others… I can’t change it or fix it (fully) myself and I’ve learned to accept that that’s not my fault or anything to be ashamed of. If I can’t love me the way I am, then I can’t expect others to love me for the way I am.” – Tasha
“I am very open about my diagnosis with friends, family and employers because it helps set expectations early and helps explain what happens when my coping strategies break down. Being open with my diagnosis also helps to change their assumptions and opinions about people with ADHD — what we are like, what we are capable of, and how successful we can be — because my career has been wildly successful thanks in part to my abilities to hyperfocus and stay calm under pressure, which allows me to pull off miracles when necessary.” – Camron
“I am proud of who I am and happy to share my diagnosis when relevant. As a school teacher, relevant opportunities arise often and I feel privileged to be able to contribute my own knowledge and experiences. I now have friends and colleagues asking my opinions and advice to help their students or children with ADHD.” – Andrew
“I’m 63 years old. I was diagnosed with ADHD last year. I have endured a lifetime of listening to critics tell me that I’m an odd fella… Now, I don’t hide my ADD from anyone! In fact, I proudly tell everyone. Because this little dreamer has done OK. I have my own welding business, a nice home, a great wife, and a great family.” – Robert
Talk About My ADHD? Sometimes
“As a psychiatrist, diagnosed with ADHD during medical school, I have shared my diagnosis with only a few colleagues whom I count as friends. There remains a lot of stigma in the medical community about ADHD or any psychiatric diagnosis. I have found it useful, on occasion, to share my ADHD story with patients, especially when I’ve diagnosed an adult who has struggled undiagnosed and untreated for decades. The fact that I’m a doctor and have this diagnosis is also reassuring to some parents when I diagnose and treat their children. When done strategically, sharing my diagnosis validates my patients’ experience, builds trust, and helps alleviate suffering, which I well understand from my own experience.” – an ADDitude reader
“When I was first diagnosed six years ago, I told almost no one. There seemed to be such a stigma attached to ADHD, and even I didn’t fully understand it or how it manifested in my day to day life. But as I’ve done more research and developed a broader understanding of ADHD, I’ve found it helpful to tell my close friends and loved ones about my diagnosis. Not only does it feel like the heaviness of a secret is off my shoulders, but it allows the people closest to me to have a better understanding of who I am and why I may behave certain ways. It allows for better communication on all sides, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.” – Kelsey
“I have shared my ADHD experiences with my husband, daughters, grandchildren and siblings – mostly with the ones who also have ADHD. Otherwise I mostly keep my ADHD from anyone else, lest they judge me or dismiss me for having it. When I have shared it with co-workers, I often get blank looks or embarrassed reactions. I have a masters in education with a specialty of learning disabilities, which helped me discover my own ADHD and the cause of my own childhood struggles in school. I always have shared my experiences with my students (and their parents) who also have ADHD (which is often undiagnosed), which helps them realize why they struggle. Often the parents recognize the same characteristics in themselves, and the family learns how to cope and manage together.” – Crystal
“I have shared with my family (though they say they already knew and just didn’t talk to me about it) and a few select friends. Mainly I share with people who are also struggling with ADHD issues or who may have kids who are going through the same things. I want to help them break the stigma and reduce the problems they are dealing with so they can be successful.” – Maria
“I have told my students, coworkers, and close friends, but not my family. They don’t understand what ADHD is and I wasn’t diagnosed until I was older, so they have a preconceived idea about me that I know I can’t change. So I just do my best to cope with it and try to be strong in front of them so they don’t know how I feel.” – Erica
“Although I don’t tell everyone, I am very open to people I spend a lot of time with (family, friends, boss, direct co-workers). My supervisor appreciates having the insight about how my brain processes information because it allows us to communicate more cohesively and increases our productivity.” – Kelly
Talking About ADHD: Next Steps
- Personal Story: “I Could Have Been Myself So Much Longer!”>
- “I Don’t Need to Be Fixed!” Epiphanies of Self-Acceptance
- Read This: How to Talk About Your ADHD
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