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5 Misunderstandings About ADHD

Posted by Dr. Jane Hannah, Upper School Division Head on Oct 2, 2019 7:00:00 AM

Over the past few weeks, questions have been asked related to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). As I listened to comments, a number did not accurately reflect research on the topic. As part of ADHD Awareness Month, I am sharing what the research says about ADHD:

Misunderstanding: “ADHD is caused by bad parenting. All a child needs is discipline.”
What does the research tell us? After having my first child, I thought parenting was very easy and frequently found myself being judgmental of parents who could not control their children in public. Then, I had my second child, Thomas. To say the least, it was humbling. I actually learned better parenting strategies from Thomas because I could no longer parent on cruise- control. While researchers may disagree on the exact causes of ADHD, most agree that there is a hereditary factor. While ADHD is not caused by bad parenting, symptoms can be exacerbated by poor parenting. Hinshaw (2006) found that punitive discipline will likely increase or exacerbate behavior problems in children/teens; thus, punishment alone is not the total answer. All children/teens need supportive discipline but they do not need excessive, harsh punishment.

Misunderstanding: “ADHD is caused by consuming too much sugar.”
What does the research tell us? In 1985 and then again in 1994, Mark Wolraich, et. al published studies demonstrating that sugar plays no role in causing ADHD. Since his article in the New England Journal of Medicine, similar results have confirmed this finding.

Misunderstanding: “ADHD is always outgrown by adolescence.”
What does the research tell us? Research has found that some children do seem to outgrow many of the symptoms; however, many exhibit symptoms into adolescence and adulthood. Also as teens mature, many acquire strategies that seem to diminish the symptoms or impairments.

Misunderstanding: “My son can’t have ADHD. He can play computer games for hours.”
What does the research tell us? A person can still have ADHD and attend when something is stimulating. Individuals with ADHD can hyper focus when something interests them.

Misunderstanding: “Those who take medication for ADHD are more likely to abuse drugs as teens.”
What does the research tell us? Research shows the opposite result. Wilen, Faraone, Biederman & Gunawardene (2003) found that adults with ADHD who took stimulants as children tended to have lower rates of substance abuse than those with ADHD who did not take stimulants. A 10-year study by Biderman, et. al (2008) also supported this finding.

Misunderstanding: “My child/teen is doomed to a life of failure because he has ADHD.”
What does research tell us? There is a great deal parents can do to help their teens diagnosed with ADHD.
1. Parents need to educate themselves on ADHD and the symptoms that interfere with functioning.
2. Learn and then practice positive-based parenting strategies. While I know firsthand how frustrating it can be to parent a child/teen with ADHD, I also know that yelling, lecturing and corporal punishment do not teach a child/teen what you want him to do. These punishment strategies may stop an unwanted behavior momentarily, but they will not change the behavior.
3. Parent training provided by a therapist experienced in treating ADHD is often helpful.
4. Partner with teachers and other school personnel so that you and school personnel work
together to help your son or daughter be successful.
5. Implement several lifestyle changes that can have a positive effect on the symptoms of ADHD, such as cutting of digital devices one hour before bedtime. It is thought that over- stimulating activities such as television or video games can increase inattention and irritability. Other important changes include ensuring that your child or teen eats healthy, gets sufficient sleep, and exercises at least 60 minutes each day. While some students can successfully participate in team sports, others benefit from individual sports, such as swimming or Tae Kwon Do.

There are many successful, well-educated adults who continue to excel and have learned to use the symptoms of ADHD to their advantage.

References:

  • Biederman, J., Monuteaux, M.C., Spencer, T., Wilens, T.E., MacPherson, H.A., & Faraone, S.V. (2008). Stimulant therapy and risk for subsequent substance use disorders in male adults with ADHD: A naturalistic controlled 10-year follow-up study. American Journal of Psychiatry 165, 597–603.
  • Hinshaw, S.P. (2006). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: The search of viable treatments. In P.C. Kendall (Ed.) Child and adolescent therapy: Cognitive-behavioral procedures. (3rd ed.) New York: Guilford, pp. 82-113.
  • Wilens, T. E., Faraone, S.V., Biederman, J., & Gunawardene, S. (2003). Does stimulant therapy of attention- deficit/hyperactivity disorder beget later substance abuse? A meta-analytic review of the literature. Pediatrics 111, 179–185.
  • Wolraich, M., Milich, R., Stumbo, P., Schultz, F. The effects of sucrose ingestion on the behavior of hyperactive boys. Pediatrics, 1985 Apr; 106(4): 657-682.
  • Wolraich, M.L., Lindgren, S.D., Stumbo, P.J., Stegink, L.D., Appelbaum, M.I., Kiritsy, M.C. Effects of diets high in sucrose or aspartame on the behavior and cognitive performance of children. New England Journal of Medicine, 1994 Feb 3; 330(5):301-307.

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