People with ADHD are just lazy
This statement implies that students with ADHD are choosing to struggle in school. I have yet to meet a student who chooses failure over success. People with ADHD have brains that are structured differently from those who do not, and, as a result they have to exert far more thought and effort, and spend more time to accomplish a task.
Being smart and doing well in school are synonymous
On the contrary, many people with ADHD are very intellectually capable, but they struggle to ‘play the game of school’. In most schools grades reflect a student’s intellectual ability in addition to his or her ability to meet deadlines, follow instructions, manage time, and self-advocate. Many students’ poor grades are more a reflection of their difficulties ‘playing the game’ effectively rather than their intellectual ability (their ability to think creatively or problem-solve).
ADHD is a simple problem that presents as hyperactivity, poor attention and/or inability to focus
ADHD is, in fact, an extremely complex disorder. Many students with ADHD have an impressive ability to focus and attend to high interest activities (e.g. they can play video games or build lego for hours). The difficulty is evident, however, when they are forced to sustain focus and attention on activities that are not intrinsically motivating. In addition to attention and focus, students with ADHD also struggle with emotional regulation, memory, organization, planning and other cognitive abilities that fall under the umbrella of executive functions1, and many of them struggle with learning disabilities, poor motor functioning and sleep disorders.
ADHD is a only a behavioral disorder
ADHD is medical disorder recognized by The National Institute of Health, the U.S. Department of Education, and the America Psychiatric Association. It is a biological disorder caused by an imbalance of chemical messengers, or neurotransmitters in the brain2. While one may think that the brain is overactive as many people diagnosed with ADHD are hyperactive or impulsive, the opposite is true. The brain is, in fact, under-stimulated and, according to extensive research, medication is the only intervention at this time that can increase the rate of activation.
Medication is an easy solution
For some people, medication is not an effective intervention. However, for those who find the right medication and the right dose, it can be a game-changer. As there are so many different classes of medication on the market, finding the one that works most effectively often requires long-term commitment and effective monitoring.
Tess Messer describes the complexity of the different medication choices:
“All the treatments for ADHD work to optimize neurotransmitter function in the brain. The Ritalin (Methylphenidate) family works by increasing both brain dopamine and epinephrine. The Adderall (Amphetamine) family works by increasing brain norepinephrine and dopamine but this family of drugs increases dopamine by only about half as much as Methylphenidate. Strattera (atomoxetine) works by increasing brain norepinephrine. Guanfacine (Intuniv) regulates the flow and effectiveness of neurotransmitter receptors in the brain in a way that reduces hyperactivity, improves working memory, and diminishes impulsivity, and distractibility.3“
Given the many choices, it may be necessary to try different classes of drugs and varying doses of each before giving up on medication.
Medication has long-term side effects and increases risks for addiction
There is no conclusive research that indicates that medication prescribed for ADHD has long-term side effects or leads to increased risks for addiction. While there is some evidence that growth may be stunted initially, research indicates that this effect is not long-term4.
Caroline Miller, Editorial Director of the Child Mind Institute wrote, “Substance abuse is, and should be, a big concern for parents of kids with ADHD. A recent study showed that teens and young adults with ADHD are at higher risk for substance abuse than other kids, but treating them with stimulant medications doesn’t increase the risk. What the new study shows is that the risk is linked to the disorder, not to the treatment5.” The risks of not treating the ADHD appropriately are more concerning.
1Brown, T. E. ADD/ADHD and Impaired Executive Function in Clinical Practice. Curr Psychiatry Rep 10, 407–411 (2008)