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What Is ADHD? It’s Not Misbehavior, Manipulation, or Permissive Parenting

The manifestations of ADHD — hyperactivity, impulsivity, inattention, poor memory — do not reflect willful intent, lax parenting, or low intelligence. This ADHD Awareness Month, let’s dispel with these ADHD myths once and for all.

What ADHD Is and Is NOT

AdHD is firmly lodged in the popular lexicon. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is familiar to educators, parents, and most clinicians. It is also commonly misunderstood and mislabeled.

ADHD Is Not Intentional Misbehavior or Manipulation

Far too many people assume that children and adolescents with ADHD are able to control their behavior — but choose not to. This is simply not true. Hyperactivity and impulsivity happen without thinking because of neurological wiring. You may see excessive talking, talking over others, getting up and moving fast when having a thought, asking a great number of questions, and falling off of the seat. These manifestations of ADHD do not reflect willful intent or the desire to make a situation or lesson difficult.

ADHD Is Not Due to Permissive or Lax Parenting

Sadly, parents are often blamed for their child’s hyperactive or impulsive behaviors, limited social judgment, or academic struggles. But ADHD is not caused by parenting. Often times, parents attempt to accommodate their child’s weaknesses by creating supports in their home and school to help their son or daughter function at their best. Parents may hear they are ‘coddling’ their child or not being ‘strict’ enough. How many times has a parent of a child or teen with ADHD heard, “He needs more tough love?” Well, tough love doesn’t teach any skills; it only causes more frustration and possible feelings of anxiety.

ADHD Is Not Low Intelligence

ADHD is not associated with low intelligence. Children and adolescents with ADHD have a great number of strengths — equal in voracity and value to those of their non-ADHD peers. Many have well-developed visual spatial learning skills; they think in pictures and videos rather than words. They see the big picture first and then learn the details, which are rarely as important in the long term but sometimes matter to parents and teachers in the short term. Intelligence, or lack of it, is not a correlate with ADHD.

ADHD Is a Neurological Disorder

ADHD impacts attention, physical and emotional regulation, social skills, learning and behavior. ADHD is diagnosed based on manifestations of different behaviors, such as difficulty focusing, sustaining concentration, sitting still, and inhibiting thoughts or actions. These struggles are real, not fictitious. ADHD is as real as diabetes. Nobody has ever doubted or questioned if a person truly has high blood sugar levels.

[Read: 9 ADHD Myths and Fallacies That Perpetuate Stigma]

ADHD Is Connected to Anxiety

Many children, adolescents and young adults diagnosed with ADHD also experience anxiety. Often, anxiety flows from an awareness that class assignments, homework, projects, studying and daily life tasks will take a long time and a worry that they will be too difficult or draining to complete. Many people with ADHD are aware that they struggle to concentrate or focus even when the desire and motivation is there. This is where Executive Functioning Coaching comes in to play — to build systems and plans that will improve follow-through as well as self-confidence. Parents are a part of the process in helping to create the routines and consistency that will also make it possible to complete daily routines and tasks.

ADHD Is Manageable

ADHD is manageable with support at home and school. This includes learning about areas of strength and weaknesses, and using those strengths to compensate for weaknesses. Parents can seek support plans such as a 504 Accommodation Plan or an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in school. At home, with the help of a therapist, parents can begin to understand their child’s profile, which can help with managing behaviors, emotions, friendships and academics.

What is ADHD? Next Steps


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Updated on October 1, 2020

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