Last updated:

January 11, 2024


 min read

Debunking common myths about ADHD

Break the myths, ADHD is a genuine neurodevelopmental disorder, not laziness; understand, support, and replace stigma with compassion.



Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder affecting individuals of all ages. While commonly diagnosed across the world, the condition is still widely misunderstood. The misconceptions surrounding ADHD can contribute to stigma and hinder proper understanding of the condition. 

Myth: ADHD isn’t a “real” condition

Several institutions such as the National Institutes of Health, the American Psychological Association, and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recognize ADHD as a “real” condition, where there is a marked difference in brain development. The disorder is also listed in diagnostic manuals such as the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Imaging studies show differences in the development of the brain in individuals with and without ADHD.

There have also been noted differences in how brain chemicals of norepinephrine, dopamine, and glutamate work in individuals with ADHD and without.

Myth: ADHD is just  lack of discipline

One of the most pervasive myths about ADHD is the notion that it's simply a lack of discipline. In reality, ADHD is a complex neurobiological condition with genetic and environmental factors at play. Individuals with ADHD often struggle with executive functions, such as impulse control, working memory, and organisation. These challenges can impact various aspects of daily life, making it crucial to recognize ADHD as a genuine medical condition.

Myth: Only children can have ADHD

Another common misconception is that ADHD is a childhood disorder that individuals outgrow as they age. While symptoms often manifest in childhood, ADHD can persist into adolescence and adulthood, making it a lifespan disorder. Many cases go undiagnosed in childhood, and individuals may only seek help later in life when they face challenges in academic, work, or personal settings.

ADHD persists from childhood to adolescence in 50%-80% of cases and into adulthood for 35%-65% of cases. Recognizing and addressing ADHD in adults is essential for promoting overall well-being and improving quality of life.

Myth: ADHD is just a excuse for laziness

Some individuals mistakenly believe that those with ADHD are using the disorder as an excuse for laziness or lack of motivation. However, ADHD is not a choice, and individuals with the condition often face genuine difficulties in sustaining attention and completing tasks. People with ADHD want to succeed, but may struggle to start seemingly “simple” tasks. The assumption that individuals with ADHD are lazy can build a culture of guilt in the person, leaving them with a sense of failure, progressing into low confidence and self-esteem. 

Understanding that ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, rather than a character flaw, is crucial in fostering a supportive and empathetic environment. 

Myth: ADHD is overdiagnosed

While there has been an increase in ADHD diagnoses in recent years, it is essential to distinguish between appropriate diagnoses and overdiagnosis. ADHD is a legitimate medical condition, and when diagnosed accurately, it can lead to effective treatment strategies that significantly improve an individual's quality of life. A study found that children have been carefully diagnosed using best practice guidelines. Overdiagnosis may result from a lack of understanding or misinterpretation of ADHD symptoms, emphasising the importance of thorough assessments by qualified healthcare professionals.

Myth: Medication is the only treatment for ADHD

Another myth is that medication is the sole treatment for ADHD. While medications like stimulants and non-stimulants can be effective in managing symptoms, they are not the only option. Behavioural interventions, psychoeducation, and support from mental health professionals can also play a crucial role in helping individuals with ADHD thrive. Psychotherapy can help in managing the emotional aspects of ADHD. Therapists can also introduce parent training or family therapy to help the effects of therapy translate to the home environment. Treatment plans are often personalised based on the specific needs and preferences of the individual.

Myth: People with ADHD can't succeed academically or professionally

Contrary to the misconception that individuals with ADHD cannot succeed academically or professionally, many have achieved remarkable success in various fields. ADHD has nothing to do with intelligence, and the manifestations are due to concerns with an individual’s executive functioning which affects their self-control, memory, and mental flexibility. With the right support, accommodations, and coping strategies, individuals with ADHD can excel in their academic and professional pursuits. Recognizing and nurturing the unique strengths associated with ADHD, such as creativity and innovation, can contribute to unlocking the full potential of individuals with this condition.

Myth: Everyone with ADHD is hyperactive

Another prevalent myth is the assumption that everyone with ADHD is hyperactive. In reality, ADHD is categorised into three subtypes: predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, and combined presentation. Not all individuals with ADHD display hyperactive behaviour. Some may struggle primarily with attention and focus, while others may exhibit impulsive tendencies. Understanding the diverse presentations of ADHD is crucial for accurate diagnosis and effective intervention.

Myth: ADHD is a result of bad parenting

Blaming parents for a child's ADHD is an unfounded and harmful myth. ADHD has a strong genetic component, and research indicates that a family history of the disorder increases the likelihood of its occurrence. Along with the genetic component, neurological factors such as pregnancy and birth complications, toxins and infections, and brain damage have been linked to ADHD. While parenting strategies can influence behaviour, they are not the primary cause of ADHD. Twin studies of children with ADHD have found that the family environments don’t contribute much to the individual differences in manifestations of ADHD. Fostering a supportive and understanding environment is crucial for individuals with ADHD to thrive, rather than placing blame on parents.

Myth: ADHD is only diagnosed in boys

ADHD in girls and women has received far less research attention than their presentation in boys and men. Individuals can have ADHD regardless of their gender, however their diagnosis might not be at the same rate. 11.7% of boys in the United States receive an ADHD diagnosis, while the rate is much lesser at 5.7% for girls as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The difference can be accounted for by how the symptoms manifest between the genders. Externalising behaviours of hyperactivity and interrupting others have been identified with boys, whereas internalising behaviours of daydreaming and not finishing tasks are common among girls. Girls with ADHD are more likely to not be diagnosed or misdiagnosed due to the lack of external symptoms of the disorder. This emphasises the need for thorough screening and assessment, regardless of gender. 

Myth: ADHD is caused by food such as sugars and caffeine

Sugar, caffeine, and other processed foods do not cause ADHD, but can affect the symptoms of the disorder. Scientific evidence has been mixed regarding whether sugar increases the symptoms of ADHD. Some research suggests that higher sugar intake has been found to be more common in children with ADHD than those without. Another study suggested table sugar that is found in packaged and processed food is not linked to ADHD.


Dispelling myths about ADHD is essential for fostering a more inclusive and empathetic society. ADHD is a legitimate neurodevelopmental disorder that affects individuals across the lifespan. By debunking common misconceptions, we can contribute to a better understanding of ADHD, promote early and accurate diagnosis, and provide individuals with the support and resources they need to succeed in various aspects of life. Let us strive to replace stigma with awareness, compassion, and a commitment to breaking down barriers for those affected by ADHD.


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