I recently attended some excellent training, provided by the ADHD Foundation, on understanding and managing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, there remain a great deal of misunderstandings surrounding ADHD.
Here are some of the most prevalent and potentially damaging myths:
1. ADHD does not exist
This has to be the most potentially dangerous of all the misunderstandings. It certainly does exist. It is a spectrum neurodevelopmental condition, usually lifelong. The exact cause of ADHD is unknown, but the condition has been shown to run in families. It is also worth mentioning that ADHD is a co-morbid condition and there is a significant likelihood of a young person with ADHD also having a specific learning difficulty (such as dyslexia, dyspraxia or dyscalculia), autism or oppositional defiance disorder. Schools need to make reasonable adjustments for pupils with ADHD.
2. ADHD is a mental health issue
It is not. However, there is a very high risk of someone with ADHD developing mental health issues at some point in their lives. The ADHD Foundation revealed that over 40 per cent experience anxiety and depression. There is also a greater incidence of self-harm and eating disorders.
3. People with ADHD are aggressive
ADHD is a challenging condition that can be managed with the correct support. It is not only about violence or aggression. People with ADHD experience a level of developmental delay within the frontal cortex of their brain. This means that the emotional responses of young people with a diagnosis may be less mature than their same-aged peers.
4. People with ADHD are selective about when to focus or behave
The biggest barrier for people with ADHD to overcome is inattention. However, this does not mean that they can never pay attention. In fact, many with a diagnosis can experience hyper-focus on areas of interest, which could explain why there are so many successful people with a diagnosis of ADHD, as they can be extra focused and dedicated to their area of interest.
Likewise, it can be frustrating for a parent or teacher when a young person appears to choose to make the same mistake time and time again. It may seem that a young person with ADHD is not acting in a way that is in their best interests, and this may be due to a dysregulation in the neurotransmission of dopamine and noradrenaline, leading to difficulties with executive function. Although young people with ADHD may appear to be unable to link cause and effect, it is not necessarily their choice to be defiant.
There are also a significant number of people with a diagnosis of ADHD who struggle to sleep. And a lifetime of sleep deprivation can perhaps lead to some poor “choices” being made.
5. Too much sugar causes ADHD
It is not the case that excessive sugar intake causes ADHD. However, it is important that we all limit our sugar intake. Additionally, exercise should be part of the daily routine. It is important for teachers to try to incorporate some type of movement within lessons. Of course, some subjects lend themselves more to this than others, but it is possible to be creative. In my role as geography teacher, I created a pack of question-and-answer revision cards, and took my students out into the sunshine to walk around and test each other's knowledge. It turned out to be popular with everyone.
It is worth noting that a diagnosis of ADHD is not an excuse for poor behaviour or academic underachievement. But it is important that, as teachers, we recognise the difficulties that some of our students are facing, and do what we can to support them and their families in the best possible way.
Gemma Corby is Sendco at Hobart High School, Norfolk. Her column for Tes runs every second Tuesday during term time