Help for ADHD: Myths and Facts
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a controversial diagnosis. For more than 10 years, ADHD has been the focus of intense media interest; there is certainly no shortage of information about it. Unfortunately, some of that information is misleading or just false. I hope to dispel some of the main misconceptions about ADHD by presenting the facts from science and research.
Myth: ADHD is an invention. If it really exists, why didn’t we hear about it before 10 years ago?
Fact: ADHD has been written about since the late 1800’s, commencing with the birth of modern psychology and research. The literature describes children and adults with poor attention spans and the inability to inhibit overactive behavior and impulses.
Until the early 1990’s, ADHD remained a largely misunderstood entity, even among mental health professionals. That all changed with the development of advanced neuro-imaging techniques, which, for the first time, allowed us to see what was happening inside the brain. A comparison of ADHD and non-ADHD brain images clearly demonstrated significant differences in levels of neuro-activity, proving that ADHD is a brain disorder. These findings helped to spur an explosion of additional research, theories, and literature about ADHD.
Myth: ADHD symptoms, especially hyperactivity, can be explained diets rich in sugars. In other words, these kids are on a sugar high. Just cut out the sugar and the hyperactivity goes away.
Fact: Several well-controlled scientific studies have already demonstrated that a high sugar diet is not the cause of hyperactivity in ADHD children. Even more importantly, no scientific study has ever shown that children diagnosed with ADHD lose their hyperactivity when sugar intake is strictly limited.
Myth: Hyperactivity and mental sluggishness can be explained by food allergies, for example, to artificial food coloring. Diet control is what these children need.
Fact: Again, several well-controlled scientific studies have refuted claims that food additives cause ADHD symptoms. Unfortunately, many parents are spending needless time and money pursuing unsubstantiated alternative treatments.
Myth: Kids who take stimulant medications eventually get addicted to the stuff.
Fact: There are no reports of children or adolescents with ADHD who become addicted to stimulants when taking their medication properly. Moreover, symptoms of withdrawal do not occur when stimulant medication is discontinued by those with ADHD. Withdrawal is a strong sign of addiction.
Myth: It seems like all kids who display disruptive behaviors, especially in the classroom, are getting diagnosed ADHD these days.
Fact: Here in the United States estimates of the prevalence of ADHD consistently average about 5% of all school age children. That means for every 40 students, probably two in that group have symptoms of ADHD. Even though the general public is more aware of ADHD, the facts show that mental health professionals have not been diagnosing it more frequently among children.
Myth: ADHD is a myth. These are spoiled and lazy children who are raised in homes with careless and lax parents that don’t provide any structure or discipline.
Fact: The evidence from neuro-imaging studies is irrefutable:
- ADHD is a real medical condition primarily affecting the frontal lobes of the brain, which is responsible for the symptoms we see in ADHD. Our frontal lobes are what help us to regulate behavior, plan, organize, manage time, hold information in memory, and think before we act. This area of the brain is under-aroused in those with ADHD.
Simple laziness cannot explain the following compelling statistics:
- Children with ADHD are significantly more likely than the general population to suffer serious and fatal injuries, be the cause of auto accidents, make trips to the emergency room, become pregnant, and drop out of school.
- Adults with ADHD are significantly more likely than others to lose and/or change jobs quite frequently, suffer a lower standard of living, have their driver’s license suspended for moving violations, and abuse drugs and alcohol.
- The prison population is overly represented by those diagnosed with ADHD.
Children with ADHD come from all types of families:
- The most consistent, loving, and supportive of parents will be challenged by the disruptive behavior of their ADHD child.
- Structure definitely helps these children, but lack of structure is not the cause of their behavior problems. The cause of ADHD is rooted in the neurobiology of brain function.
Finally, there is a strong genetic component to ADHD. This disorder tends to run in families. In fact, science has already uncovered several genes associated with the inheritability of ADHD.
ADHD is a Real Disorder
Myth: If medical professionals don’t agree on whether or not ADHD is a real disorder, then why should the public?
Fact: An article entitled International Consensus Statement on ADHD was published by the Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review in 2002. It was authored by Russell A. Barkley, Ph.D., noted authority on ADHD. This article stresses unequivocally that ADHD is a valid disorder recognized by, among others, the U.S. Surgeon General, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. The purpose of the article was to dispel the misinformation generated by the media that ADHD is a mythical disorder.
With warm regards,
Frank Morelli, M.A.
Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Email Frank for more information on how we can help with ADHD.