My 8-year-old son Lucas has ADHD. Naturally, because the disorder is a big part of our lives, we talk about it with people. Sometimes we’re venting with a friend, and sometimes we’re chatting with another parent to pass the time as we wait for some kid’s activity or another to wrap up. Sometimes we’re having a deliberate, goal-oriented discussion with teachers or administrators as a means to formulate better approaches to assist with Lucas’s behavior and academic performance.
These conversations, whether flippant or serious, have elicited every response and opinion imaginable, and I’m disappointed to say that a disturbing number of the reactions I encounter are uninformed at best, and ignorant bordering on cruel at worst.
We still have a long way to go for people to understand what ADHD is and isn’t, and what it does and does not imply about a child and his or her parents. Here are the top 10 ignorant reactions I’m regularly confronted with during conversations about my child’s ADHD, and an explanation as to the reality of the situation:
1. “Being distracted is normal. Who isn’t distracted these days?”
My phone is distracting. I love social media and sometimes I’m on Facebook when I should be folding laundry, cleaning a toilet or paying bills. But when the hammer’s about to fall, I can flip a switch in my brain, turn off my phone and make magic happen. A kid with ADHD doesn’t have that switch. My son could have his homework sitting directly in front of him and be so absorbed in his own imagination that he literally cannot see the paper in front of him.
2. “He’s just being a kid. All kids act a little crazy sometimes.”
Any medical professional will tell you that attentiveness and distractibility exist on a spectrum, just like autism. It’s time we laypeople get with the program and stop shrugging off ADHD as “normal kid craziness.” We need to recognize that when a parent says “hey, my kid is out of control and nothing I’ve been doing is working” that they mean it and they are not crazy. Yes, all kids act crazy, sometimes and to varying degrees. So do adults, sometimes and to varying degrees. The determining factor with ADHD is the degree to which and the frequency with which this “craziness” occurs.
3. “He just needs to try harder.”
If you’ve ever worked one-on-one with a child who suffers from ADHD and who is trying to complete a homework task that they find challenging or tedious, you will see just how hard these kids try. It is a heartbreaking thing to witness.
4. “The real problem is that he’s bored.”
Yes, sometimes distractibility becomes more pronounced when a child with ADHD is bored. But no, that is not why the child is presenting symptoms of ADHD. A neurotypical child can force himself to pay attention, even when bored. That is the difference.
5. “He must not be getting enough discipline at home.”
Discipline is important in any household, but the implication that ADHD can be cured with discipline is absolutely ridiculous. That households exist with ADHD children and neurotypical children under the same roof is evidence that this assertion holds no merit.
6. “Why wouldn’t you medicate him? You’d medicate him if he had diabetes, right?”
Diabetes is a life-threatening illness, ADHD is not, unless we get into discussions of comorbidities such as anxiety and depression, and even then, ADHD is still not immediately life-threatening. Of course these risk factors should still be considered when a family is making decisions with their qualified healthcare professional, but we really need to stop comparing apples to oranges on this one. Diabetes is not ADHD. Let it go, people.
7. “Don’t medicate him! He’ll turn into a zombie!”
That you have a medicated, glassy-eyed cousin who speaks in a monotone is not justification for you to offer your unsolicited advice on the subject of whether or not I medicate my child. The decision to medicate or not is a private one, between a family and their qualified healthcare professional. Kindly butt out.
8. “He focuses fine when he wants to; he must not really have ADHD.”
This one drives me nuts, but I get it. There are days when Lucas focuses so well that I question the last seven years of my sanity. Maybe he doesn’t have ADHD. Maybe I’ve imagined the whole thing! And then I get a stack of unfinished work from the teacher that looks like squirrels nibbled on the corners and all is right in my world again. I’ll tell you what parents of children of ADHD children already know: ADHD is both relentless and fickle.
9. “Don’t worry; he’ll grow out of it.”
Some kids grow out of ADHD around puberty; most do not. Lucas will likely struggle with ADHD for the rest of his life, and though I know the phrase “he’ll grow out of it” is meant to be comforting, I really wish people would stop saying it. We parents of ADHD children need to face reality head on and develop workable solutions, not indulge promises of “maybe later things will be better.”
10. “He just needs to learn to pay attention better.”
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