AD/HD MYTHS AND TRUTHS
By William P. McFarren, Ed.D.
Many things have changed in the area of AD/HD including the wording of the diagnosis. In the past, it has been called many things, including Hyperactivity Disorder and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). In 1993 the diagnosis was officially changed to Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD).
The diagnostic process involved in arriving at the diagnosis of AD/HD can be complicated. There is no definitive diagnostic test. A variety of assessment procedures can be utilized including rating scales completed by teachers and parents, computerized testing, play therapy assessments, etc. Parents are always encouraged to speak with their pediatrician or physician in order to rule-out any medical problem or condition which could mimic the AD/HD symptom pattern. Even an experienced professional must invest a considerable amount of time assessing the individual to accurately diagnosis this condition.
AD/HD is a cluster of symptoms involving deficits of inattention. This is characterized by difficulty attending to details, making careless mistakes, trouble maintaining sustained attention, struggling with organization, short-term memory deficits, following through with the completion of tasks, and distractibility. It should be kept in mind that all children and adults exhibit some of these symptoms, so they must be compared to what is normal for their specific age group.
Another primary cluster of symptoms of AD/HD involve hyperactivity and impulsivity. This can involve fidgetiness with hands and feet, physical hyperactivity along with impulsivity, blurting out answers before questions have been completed, and interrupting conversations of others.
It is important to remember that AD/HD is a neurobiological disorder that is heavily influenced by genetics. Some of the latest research involving highly technical brain scans reveal very significant differences in people with AD/HD as opposed to those without the disorder.
Myth: AD/HD is a rare condition.
Truth: In the last several years there have been comprehensive studies by
the National Institute of Mental Health which have revealed the current
rate of AD/HD as approximately 10% of the US population and even
higher in certain ethnic backgrounds. Previously, it was thought that
the rate was only 5%.
Myth: AD/HD is a condition seen only in children.
Truth: Some children do outgrow this condition, however AD/HD can persist
into adulthood for many individuals. The latest research shows that it is
much more common in adults than previously thought.
Myth: We are just tranquilizing children with medication.
Truth: The medications used to treat AD/HD help normalize brain chemistry
by replacing neurotransmitters (brain chemistry) which individuals with
AD/HD are lacking. An analogy that I often use is that medication works
like glasses for the brain. Just as glasses help an individual to focus and
see more clearly, the medications used to treat AD/HD help
those with this condition to better focus their attention.
Myth: All children with AD/HD must be hyperactive.
Truth: A vast majority of children with AD/HD are not hyperactive. Hyperactivity
in adulthood is very rare.
Myth: Those with AD/HD are often not very intelligent and have difficulty
Truth: Most individuals with AD/HD have above average
intelligence, and are creative and talented in many areas.
Myth: My children can play an interesting game for hours so they can’t
Truth: Individuals with AD/HD are capable of hyperfocusing on interesting and
stimulating tasks, however their deficits become evident in boring and
Myth: People with AD/HD are just lazy and make a choice to be that way.
Truth: AD/HD is not a choice. It is a neurobiological condition that can have a
very profound affect on many aspects of an individual’s life. There are
many things an individual can do to help compensate for AD/HD
symptoms, but most never sufficiently conquer the symptoms without
Myth: AD/HD is a hopeless condition with no positive outcome.
Truth: AD/HD is a highly treatable condition. If the diagnosis is accurate, then
there is every reason to be very hopeful about successful treatment of
There are a variety of resources available to learn more about AD/HD including
Dr. McFarren has been a practicing psychologist with Psychological Consultants and Affiliates, Inc, in Licking County for over 25 years, with a particular interest in AD/HD. He is also the author of the children’s book Glasses for the Brain: Helping Children Understand AD/HD. Dr. McFarren may be reached at 740-522-2230.