Jakobi Jackson, Grade 3 Teacher 2023

ADHD: Common Myths and Misconceptions

McLean School Lower School Teacher, Jakobi Jackson“She just needs to try harder.” “Boys will be boys.” “It must be the parenting.” “It’s just a phase.” Although one in ten children are diagnosed with it, ADHD is often misunderstood, making it hard for children to get the support they need at school and at home. As an educator at a school that specializes in teaching the way students’ learn, I know there’s a lot more to the story and can honestly say that my students with ADHD are among the most interesting, charismatic, and capable kids I’ve ever known. I’d like to share some of the most common misconceptions about ADHD, and the truths behind them:

“ADHD isn’t real.”

Recognized by the American Medical Association and other leading organizations, ADHD is a neurological condition characterized by a collection of symptoms ranging from impulsivity and emotional dysregulation to disorganization and difficulty prioritizing. But because the diagnosis isn’t exactly definitive (there’s no single test for it, and the evaluation criteria are subjective) – not to mention that doctors have varying levels of expertise in this realm – ADHD symptoms are sometimes minimized or attributed to something else, like too much screen time or poor parenting. To the contrary, abundant scientific evidence demonstrates that brain development is different for those with ADHD and that the condition is also hereditary.

“ADHD makes it impossible to focus.”

ADHD is a bit of a misnomer: rather than a deficit of attention, children with ADHD have an abundance of it – but struggle with what to focus on and when. Paying attention to everything at once is (paradoxically) very distracting, and the hyperfocus that comes with channeling that attention can lead to amazing things – or a lot of frustration if the situation demands something different. Skilled, trained teachers can help a child with ADHD develop strategies to sustain time on task, even when that task is “boring” or “hard,” and the ability to do that is a huge part of success in all areas of life.

“Children with ADHD aren’t smart.”

Tell that to Albert Einstein – one of many extraordinary thinkers known to have ADHD. In fact, research shows that an ADHD brain has heightened skills in divergent thinking, conceptual expansion, overcoming knowledge constraints, and so much more. In a traditional school setting where expectations tend to be specific and set in stone, a child with ADHD is likely to struggle, and as a result, may feel “stupid.” At McLean, our Abilities Model® puts the emphasis on a child’s strengths, not just their challenges, and in doing so we see very clearly all of the ways in which students with ADHD are smart.  

“Boys have ADHD. Girls have ADD.”

It used to be that those without the hyperactivity component of ADHD were described as having ADD. Today, however, it’s all called ADHD, and, within that, there are three types – ADHD hyperactive, ADHD inattentive, and ADHD combined – and each one affects both boys and girls. ADHD hyperactive is often characterized as being “driven by a motor,” whereas ADHD inattentive type comes off as spacey or scattered. While it’s true that the condition can look different in boys and girls, the diagnosis itself is not in any way related to gender.

“Children with ADHD can’t succeed in school.”

They can if they’re enrolled in the right one! Early intervention plays a big part in a student’s ability to feel and be successful, before bad habits and secondary issues arise. A child that feels overwhelmed, lost, or behind in school may act out in disruptive ways to distract attention away from what’s really going on. Although it is not always easy to understand where typical early childhood behaviors end and ADHD begins, expert teachers can spot the signs and work with your child to develop vital skills and strategies that will help them cope with and conquer their challenges so that they are successful in school – and beyond.  

I find that students with ADHD tend to be super creative and resilient . . . because they’ve had to be. Whether it’s a hobby or a sport or a school project, a child with ADHD is often “all in” and their commitment and enthusiasm is an inspiration – and a reminder of all they’re capable of.

Jakobi Jackson, Grade 3 Teacher 2023