Article by Dr. McKenna Hereford
Most people have probably heard of ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). If you’ve been on social media over the past year, you’ve likely seen more content related to ADHD as well. Many people have shared their lived experience with ADHD and professionals have corrected misconceptions. It’s hard not to feel a bit confused about what exactly it looks like! Here are some common myths that have popped up recently:
#1 – ADD
ADD is an older term referring to Attention Deficit Disorder. Did you know that this term has been absorbed into ADHD? There are actually different types of ADHD, and “ADD” generally refers to the inattentive type that might include less commonly recognized symptoms, such as forgetfulness, missing details, distractibility. This type of ADHD has garnered more attention clinically and in research recently due to the lack of support for children. Basically, “ADD” is an outdated term for one of the types of ADHD.
#2 – You have to be hyper or fidgety to have ADHD
Researchers have recently found that ADHD generally causes executive dysfunction, which basically means difficulty getting all your cognitive abilities together to complete a task. For example, procrastination might happen not due to a fear of failing but due to misjudging how much time a task might take to complete and feeling overwhelmed. ADHD is categorized into three different types: predominantly hyperactive, predominantly inattentive, or combined hyperactive and inattentive. Hyperactivity (such as difficulty sitting down or frequently interrupting others) is a hallmark sign of the hyperactive type, but may actually not appear as much or at all in the other two types!
#3 – Women don’t get ADHD
Recently, we’ve discovered that women are commonly undiagnosed for a long time because they’re less likely to have as much hyperactivity. If you think about it, more hyperactivity in childhood may lead to disruptions in class and difficulty for others. That attention is more likely to lead to treatment, whereas girls with ADHD are often perceived as “spacey” or “a daydreamer” in school. Girls and women might be struggling internally and we might be less likely to catch it until later when coping strategies are no longer working.
Did any of these surprise you? We often have a specific picture in our minds about how ADHD looks. In reality, it’s not that simple which has left many people not receiving help until later in life. Kids with hyperactivity tend to get more attention because of the perceived disruptions created for others. This negative attention might then lead to some sort of treatment. Kids who do not fit that picture or exhibit hyperactivity are often left struggling internally but not detected because they do not cause “problems” at home or in school.
The picture researchers have had of ADHD likely also has not captured the full experience, leading to limitations in diagnosis. The name itself, ADHD, reduces the experience to inattention and hyperactivity when increasing amounts of research show an overall level of executive dysfunction! Researchers have also recently found in research that kids with ADHD might be more susceptible to rejection sensitive dysphoria (higher levels of sensitivity to perceived or real rejection) and justice sensitivity (higher emotional reactions to injustice). It’s likely that we are only starting to grasp a bigger picture of what ADHD actually is, and research is still unfolding as you’re reading this article.
What makes things a bit stickier is that many things can also look very similar to ADHD, such as many anxiety disorders. It’s impossible to tell from a quick video about someone’s experience of procrastination, for example, that they have ADHD. Even stickier is that many people with ADHD experience anxiety as result of having ADHD itself, such as feeling anxious when frequently showing up to work late. ADHD is considered a developmental disorder, meaning that it first shows up in childhood. While that might help narrow down some people’s challenges, it gets more complicated if other things showed up in childhood as well, such as trauma. Mental health is incredibly complex, and finding the appropriate language to capture your experience is important. If you are inappropriately prescribed stimulants thinking you have ADHD when you have anxiety instead, this might actually exacerbate your anxiety symptoms.
ADHD has become a larger conversation, for good reason. There is also lots of conflicting information online and on social media, so it’s easy to feel confused or want clarity. Deep Eddy Psychotherapy provides thorough diagnostic assessment services for anyone looking for answers regarding ADHD and potential treatment options. Therapy is also available in many formats to address various experiences of ADHD. If you’re looking for ADHD assessments and/or therapy to address ADHD symptoms in an affirming environment, contact us to schedule an appointment!