It’s hard to manage a child’s medical condition when you’re constantly getting the message that it’s not real, or that somehow it wouldn’t be a problem if you were just handling things better. The myths about ADHD are deeply entrenched, despite decades of factual, evidence-based research.
Case and point: it seems they don’t have ADHD in France! At least, not according to Dr. Marilyn Wedge, who wrote in Psychology Today that we tend to “’pathologize’ much of what is normal childhood behavior.” She claims that the French population has lower numbers of ADHD kids because they treat it as a problem of social context, because they provide structure from birth, and because children know their limits. Dr. Wedge manages to hit on virtually every ADHD myth in the book! As parents, we need the truth to help our kids.
Myth #1: ADHD is caused by poor parenting.
Dr. Wedge writes that in French families, “Parents are firmly in charge of their kids – instead of the American family style, in which the situation is all too often vice versa.” If only we could get a handle on our kids, give them rules and structure, and let them know who’s boss, then we’d stop this ADHD nonsense. If only!
The truth is that ADHD is a neurobiological condition. It is not caused by a lack of rules, structure, or boundaries. It is not caused by our culture. It is, in fact, caused by our brains. Those of us with ADHD are wired a bit differently. In our prefrontal cortex resides our executive function; this is a part of the brain that is involved with organization and self-management. In people with ADHD, the executive function is impaired, and while it does not affect intellect, it certain does affect the ability to concentrate, to organize information, to start and complete a task…. Sound familiar!?
In brain scans of kids with ADHD, there are real differences. The size of the brain can be up to 5 percent smaller, and dopamine levels are lower. There is also a large genetic connection. Research indicates that when parents have ADHD, their children have a 70 – 80 percent risk of having it as well. Kids with ADHD usually have a close relative with ADHD. It’s part of the genetic grab-bag we get at birth. We don’t get to choose our genes. Parents can pass this on, just like they pass on their blue eyes or ability to curl their tongue! ADHD is not caused by poor parenting. But it can be helped by supportive, informed, empowered parents.
Myth #2: ADHD doesn’t exist.
This takes the above myth to an extreme: not only are you a bad parent, but your kid is just a bad kid. He doesn’t listen. He doesn’t pay attention to his teachers. He doesn’t care what you say. He doesn’t think rules apply to him. He’s undisciplined.
ADHD is a health condition that affects between 5 and 8 percent of kids (even French kids!) and a smaller percentage of adults. Studies have found similar numbers in 30 non-US countries, so North Americans are not alone in this – it is prevalent throughout the world. The truth is that there is a massive amount of sound research that clearly establishes ADHD as both a real and a neurobiological condition. A great book for parents is Dr. Tom Brown’s Attention Deficit Disorder: The Unfocused Mind in Children and Adults, which discusses the science and studies behind ADHD – and explains it in language that parents can understand.
Myth #3: You can’t do anything about ADHD.
This is the most dangerous myth of all, and one that many parents feel deeply. Many people think their options are limited to medications, or that they have to live with the chaos that ADHD creates in the family. That is a myth we’re happy to bust. There is a wide range of effective support options available to parents, perhaps the most critical of which is parent training and support.
Kids with ADHD bring special challenges to the table. They do not always respond to techniques that work with “typical” children – though typical children don’t always respond either! It can be difficult to manage your child’s behaviors, especially if you have ADHD, too. Coaching and training can help you accept the situation and learn to cope, and hold you accountable to the strategies you choose to put into place. First is surviving, next is thriving. You can learn the skills you need to help your child manage – and to help yourself manage.
There are a variety of myths surrounding ADHD: it’s caused by sugar or artificial sweeteners; it is caused by our permissiveness or laziness; it’s because we’re not letting boys be boys (or girls be girls); it’s over diagnosed. The truth is that ADHD exists; it is a neurobiological condition; it is genetic; and you can get the help and support you need to deal with those truths, and manage ADHD effectively.