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Why ADHD Is So Misunderstood

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ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is very misunderstood in American Culture. People believe if you have it you shouldn’t be able to focus on anything. This comes from a lack of knowledge about what ADHD is and how it presents itself. Sadly it leads to many family members and friends of students with ADHD not understanding or even believing what could very well be a valid diagnosis. 

People ask me all the time, as a highly specialized special education teacher, what do I think about the overdiagnosis of ADHD. I hear stories from people about how kids are diagnosed with ADHD when really they’re just being lazy or difficult. People ask how can a student, who focuses on reading or video games or TV, have ADHD. Aren’t they just choosing to misbehave?

My answer is always the same. I’m not convinced there is a problem with people overdiagnosing ADHD. 

In reality, ADHD is not so much a problem with attention. It’s a problem with executive functioning and brain chemistry. 

Executive functioning is a cognitive process that helps you make decisions. 

Imagine you’re playing chess. Your executive functioning skills help you look at the whole board, see all the different pieces, determine consequences for different moves, and decide on the best course of action. 

It’s also in charge of deciding on the next steps and sequencing logical activities.

Executive functioning matters because according to the latest research ADHD is not a behavior disorder. Some suggest it’s a complex series of developmental problems that affect a child’s ability to use their executive functioning skills. 

For more information read A New Understanding of ADHD in Children and Adults by Thomas E. Brown. (Note that is an affiliate link)

According to Bown’s book, ADHD becomes most problematic when the executive functioning skills fail. If an activity requires little to no executive functioning skills someone with ADHD will likely not have a hard time focusing on it at all.

What doesn’t require executive functioning skills?

  • Video Games
  • Reading
  • Watching TV
  • Playing
  • Low Stakes fun activities

Parents, family, friends, and teachers see a student with ADHD being able to engage in long-term play or pleasurable activities and then assume the child is choosing to misbehave during class or homework time.

In fact, during homework or class time their executive functioning skills are failing them, which then prompts the distracted, defiant, or hyperactive behavior. 

Part of why students with ADHD are so misunderstood is because those pleasurable activities they can focus on, are pleasurable because they don’t require those executive functioning skills that overload.

Practically this means you need to approach your students with understanding. 

Know they are not choosing to behave this way. It’s their brain chemistry. Getting angry at them won’t help. It won’t change what’s happening, because it’s not improving their impulse control, executive functioning, or general skills.

Have clear expectations with them, and remind them to stick to those expectations. Snapping or yelling will just make them hate learning more. 

If people ask you or comment on how ADHD is “fake,” do your best to educate them. Explain what ADHD really is, a no-fault brain disorder. 

To read more about no-fault brain disorders check out It’s Nobody’s Fault by Harold S. Koplewicz. (Another affiliate link)

As special education teachers, we often have to educate lots of people about lots of things, not just kids with disabilities. If you have the chance to teach someone how to be understanding towards children with ADHD you are helping make the world a better place for your students. 

Yes, it’s annoying, but I do it anyway. I don’t want people who don’t know better to accuse my students of making it up.

Make sure to join my email list to never miss a post and to get access to my free resource library. Also if you are interested in learning about ADHD and Impulse control, check out this blog post.

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