"Is ADHD Real?" Dealing With ADHD Disbelief
Christine Lee and Counselor Eric Patterson discuss how to deal with people when they ask "Is ADHD real?"
Eric's Advice for Coping With Doubt
You can’t see it. You can’t taste it, smell it, or touch it. There is no definitive test or measure to prove its existence. Because of this complete lack of evidence, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), must be fake, right?
This is the thought process that many have regarding the condition that affects about five percent of kids and nearly three percent of adults. Despite the long track record of observable symptoms, accurate diagnosis, and effective treatment, many people consider ADHD to be nothing more than a myth.
Rather than accept that ADHD is real, people think:
- ADHD is a tool used by medication companies to sell their products to a naïve public.
- ADHD is a result of modern life, diets, and technology — it never existed in the past.
- ADHD is a way for psychologists to create a disorder out of normal childhood behavior.
Each of these beliefs is flawed and can be easily disproven based on current and historical facts.
For example, symptoms that refer to ADHD have been discussed in medical literature since the 1800s. The use of medication as a treatment has been tested and retested to be effective in reducing symptoms, especially when combined with therapy.
What Is ADHD?
Before ADHD is defended any further, it is important to note the current concept of ADHD.
Mental health disorders are compiled in a text called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Now in its fifth addition, the DSM-5 is a work constructed by the American Psychiatric Association to create a standard for all mental health practitioners regarding diagnosis of various conditions.
When it comes to ADHD, the material is quite lengthy and involved. There are nine symptoms of inattention you could have; by having six or more, you meet the criteria of inattentive. Examples include:
- Failing to give attention to small details
- Struggling to listen when spoken to
- Difficulty staying organized
- Losing important items
- Being distracted easily
Beyond the nine inattentive symptoms, there are nine symptoms of hyperactivity/impulsivity. Again, by having six or more, you meet the criteria. Examples include:
- Fidgeting or squirming
- Running or climbing during inappropriate times
- Talking excessively and interrupting others
- Difficulty waiting or taking turns
The symptoms are categorized this way because there are actually several versions of ADHD. There is:
- Predominantly inattentive, where you meet the requirements for inattention but not hyperactivity/impulsivity.
- Predominantly hyperactive/impulsive, where you meet the requirements for hyperactivity/impulsivity but not inattention.
- Combined, where you meet requirements for both.
Males are more likely to have ADHD overall, but females are more likely to have ADHD that is predominantly inattentive.
By looking at the symptoms of ADHD, it is easy to see where doubt begins. These symptoms look very similar to behaviors typical during childhood.
What child does not get restless easily or has trouble listening? What child loves waiting patiently or is always organized? Looking at this information, it would be easy for anyone to assume that ADHD is only labeling normal behavior as abnormal.
Before you reach that conclusion, consider another mental health disorder like depression, which is widely accepted and understood by the majority of people. Consider symptoms of depression, like periods of low mood or irritability, changes in sleep and appetite, and low motivation to engage in pleasurable activities.
If you look at these symptoms, it is easy to reach the same conclusion as with ADHD. Everyone feels depressed sometimes, right?
Everyone experiences changes in their sleep, appetite, and motivation, right? So, this means depression is nothing more than making typical life atypical.
People don’t usually make this argument, though, because they have seen firsthand how depression differs from normal feelings. Symptoms of a mental health condition are based on intensity, frequency, and duration of symptoms.
Depression is real and much more than someone being “sad.” ADHD is real and much more than someone being “lazy and irresponsible.”
The Risks of Doubting the Diagnosis
People who think ADHD is fake, exaggerated, or a temporary condition to be grown out of put themselves and the people exhibiting the symptoms at risk.
ADHD can be treated well when symptoms are taken seriously. Symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity can significantly change the life of someone living with ADHD; they tend to do worse in school, have poorer relationships, and struggle in the workplace.
Untreated ADHD can lead to a number of proven risks, like:
- Higher chance of developing other mental health disorders like conduct disorder and antisocial personality disorder.
- Higher chance of using substances like drugs and alcohol.
- Higher chance of becoming incarcerated.
- More frequent traffic accidents and violations.
- Higher chance of being injured.
Based on this, the risk of doubting the diagnosis is too great.
Trusting the Experts
You cannot see ADHD, but experts can. With years of education and practical experience, a mental health professional can see the symptoms of ADHD in a child or adult based on their presentation, how they answer questions, and the content of their responses.
There is no test to prove someone has this mental health condition, but clinicians can use their skills to remove most of the doubt regarding the prognosis.
The verdict is in: ADHD is real. For the people who see it every day, they can see it in children and adults.
You do not have to believe ADHD is real, but you could be doing a huge disservice to someone with ADHD. Without treatment, more problems emerge. Choose to be a help, not a hindrance.