After years of debate, dispute and scepticism, few people today question the existence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But according to Dr Tony Lloyd, chief executive of the ADHD Foundation in the UK, myths about the condition prevail in schools and wider society.
Dr Lloyd explains how these misunderstandings can have a damaging long-term impact.
“Some 40 per cent of pupils with ADHD are given fixed-term exclusions and 11 per cent of these young people go on to be excluded permanently," he writes. "Also, almost half of people with ADHD suffer from long-term mental health problems. But with early diagnosis and good management, there’s no reason that children with ADHD can’t go on to achieve great things and live happy, fulfilled lives.”
Comedian Rory Bremner was one of those undiagnosed students and, as part of the article, he recounts his own experience.
“For a child in class, mental overload and so many distractions makes it impossible to settle and learn, and each failure or reprimand damages the self-esteem,” he writes. “Yet, by the same token, a constantly shifting mind is incredibly creative…Attention deficit? Attention surfeit more life.”
So what are the myths about ADHD that need to be challenged?
Myth 1: ADHD is bad behaviour
Although bad behaviour is usually what prompts a diagnosis of ADHD, this is a symptom of an underlying cognitive impairment. In essence, the classroom and school environment can become a source of stress for these pupils: the bad behaviour that is widely perceived as “being” ADHD is actually their response to this stress.
Myth 2: ADHD is a solo diagnosis
In 70 per cent of cases, ADHD occurs alongside another condition, for example autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, Asperger’s syndrome or sensory processing disabilities. It is estimated that 40 per cent of children with autism have the disorder. And approximately 25 per cent of children with ADHD also have dyslexia.
Myth 3: ADHD results from bad parenting
Bad parenting doesn’t help, but parenting a child with ADHD requires a unique set of skills and help for parents is often hard to come by.
Myth 4: ADHD affects only children
ADHD is a lifelong condition, making it a huge issue for the whole education sector, from nurseries to sixth-form colleges and beyond. Research suggests that up to 60 per cent of adults with ADHD will still behave impulsively, lack focus and struggle with working memory.
Myth 5: Medication is the answer
There is overwhelming evidence that psychostimulant medication alleviates symptoms, moderating impulsive and inattentive behaviours and resulting in improved school performance. However, as many as 80 per cent of teenagers become non-compliant with medication by the age of 15, so alternative and longer-term solutions must be sought. Children with ADHD and their parents need to be trained to understand how their brains work differently and what strategies they can use to manage the condition.