11 ADHD Myths That are Simply Not True

Monday, 04 December 2023 09:43 Written by Dr. Karlie Mirabelli, Ph.D.

What is ADHD?

ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It is a common neurodevelopmental disorder, meaning that it is a disorder affecting brain development, and as such, will be present throughout the developmental lifespan, typically becoming evident in early childhood. ADHD has two primary symptom presentations, with three possible diagnostic options: ADHD Primarily Inattentive and ADHD Primarily Hyperactive/Impulsive, with the third diagnosis being ADHD Combined Type, in which symptom criteria for both presentations are met.

What Are Common ADHD Symptoms?

As mentioned, ADHD symptoms typically fall under two main categories: inattentive symptoms and hyperactive/impulsive symptoms. The inattentive symptoms include distractibility, inattentiveness, forgetfulness, disorganization, and poor attention to details. The hyperactive/impulsive symptoms include fidgeting, restlessness, excessive talking, interrupting others, and difficulty waiting one's turn.

ADHD Treatment in Chicago

ADHD treatment in Chicago typically includes medical, behavioral therapy, and/or psychotherapeutic support, with effective options available for both adults and children. Medical treatment options include medication, such as stimulant or non-stimulant medicine, most typically taken as pills. Behavioral treatment options focus on trying to eliminate or reduce negative or unhelpful behaviors, while promoting helpful and adaptive behaviors and habits. Psychotherapy for ADHD typically includes both behavioral and cognitive components (i.e., cognitive behavioral therapy). Research suggests that the most effective ADHD treatment includes a combination both pharmaceutical and therapeutic interventions.

11 ADHD Myths & Misconceptions:

Myth 1: ADHD is caused by bad parenting or a chaotic home environment.

ADHD can certainly be exacerbated by environmental conditions; however, there is strong evidence to suggest ADHD is largely heritable. This means that ADHD has a significant genetic component regardless of environmental circumstances.

Myth 2: ADHD is not a “real” medical condition.

ADHD is recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), as well as within the medical community, such as being listed within the ICD-10, where all other medically recognized conditions can be found. Children and adults with ADHD may be eligible to receive disability accommodations due to their condition, especially in academic settings. ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood, with symptoms impacting children and adults across school, home, work, and social settings.

Myth 3: “Everyone has a little bit of ADHD."

Nearly all disorders recognized by the DSM include typical human behaviors, traits, and attributes that are observed across the general population, with ADHD being no exception. That is why it is important to recognize that all typical human behaviors, traits, and attributes exist on a spectrum, or continuum, with all humans experiencing at least some degree of each trait or attribute. The differences emerge when examining the severity and frequency of these traits and attributes. What makes ADHD “ADHD” is that all of these traits are occuring in one individual, at the same time, in a quantity and severity far greater than that found in the general population. It is best to consider that most mental disorders only differ in quantity and severity from the typical population, and not in quality. That is, everyone does, in fact, experience moments of inattention or distractibility, but not everyone experiences the chronic states of inattention and distractibility throughout their lifespan, across settings, in a manner that is frequent, severe, and impairing.

Myth 4: ADHD is just an excuse for laziness or lack of discipline.

Now that we know ADHD is very much a “real” disorder, we can safely rule out that ADHD is just a made-up excuse. However, if you need more convincing, you should know that this sentiment can actually be very harmful and hurtful to those with ADHD. Most often, individuals with ADHD have a strong desire to be motivated, disciplined, and successful; in fact, the discrepancy between their desires and their fulfillment of their desires often leads to self-doubt, shame, and a suffering sense of self competency. Those with ADHD are aware of what they want to do and theoretically could do, but they often feel “blocked” by their symptoms. If they could completely eliminate this blockage, it’s pretty clear that most would eagerly do so.

Myth 5: Medication is the only effective treatment for ADHD.

As mentioned, ADHD has a variety of treatment options, with ADHD medication being just one evidence-based treatment method. Behavioral treatments such as parent training, as well psychotherapies such as CBT have also been found to be effective ADHD treatments. The most effective approaches include a combination of pharmacological and psychotherapeutic treatments.

Myth 6: ADHD only affects children.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder of childhood, in that the symptoms typically develop and become noticeable in childhood. However, all children with ADHD grow up to become adults with ADHD. See Myth 11 for more information.

Myth 7: People with ADHD can’t focus on anything.

People with ADHD are not devoid of the ability to focus, instead they more accurately struggle with where and when to apply that focus. Oftentimes, those with ADHD may find themselves intensely focusing… just on the wrong task or activity… or perhaps on too many tasks and activities at one time.

Myth 8: ADHD is overdiagnosed.

ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders; however, even so, ADHD only affects 5-7% of youth and 2-7% of adults, which is only a small portion of the overall population. You may have observed a rise in ADHD diagnosis rates that appears alarming; however, consider the following likely confounds contributing to the increase in diagnoses before attributing this rise to an overdiagnosis problem. 1. We have gotten better at identifying ADHD in general, resulting in “catching” cases that may have been previously overlooked. 2. We have gotten better at identifying ADHD in girls and women in particular, a population historically overlooked or misdiagnosed until recently. 3. Due to this, many adult women are seeking diagnostic clarity given a previous misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis. And finally, 4. Given a boom in technology and resources, more individuals are becoming aware of ADHD symptoms and are seeking diagnostic support for themselves, before having to be referred by a teacher or doctor.

Myth 9: People with ADHD are not as intelligent as those without it.

ADHD is not a disorder of intelligence or intellectual ability. Individuals with ADHD often have comparable general intelligence to the overall population. However, those with ADHD may display more scattered strengths and weaknesses when it comes to their more specific abilities.

Myth 10: All people with ADHD are hyperactive.

As mentioned, ADHD symptoms typically fall under two main categories: inattentive symptoms and hyperactive/impulsive symptoms. While some individuals primarily display hyperactive and impulsive symptoms, others primarily display mostly inattentive symptoms with little to no hyperactivity. However, the most commonly observed diagnosis is the combined presentation, in which an individual displays both hyperactive/impulsive and inattentive symptoms.

Myth 11: ADHD can be outgrown.

It is largely misunderstood that because ADHD is a developmental disorder, that it only occurs in childhood. This is untrue. As mentioned, the neurodevelopmental categorization simply means that it begins throughout early development. While some individuals may go on to have fully managed their symptoms, resulting in them no longer relating to ADHD symptoms, it is actually most common that ADHD struggles persist well into adulthood. In fact, adulthood can often be when the gap between an individual with ADHD and their peers becomes most evident. This is because the demands of life tend to increase in adulthood, and the ability to juggle these demands requires significant attention, focus, and time management. The struggles of ADHD in adults are very real.


ADHD is a disorder fraught with historical myths and misconceptions. If you’ve ever wondered, “do I have ADHD?” you may have fallen victim to some of these popular ADHD myths. If you’d like more information regarding ADHD or are interested in scheduling an ADHD evaluation in Chicago, please contact us.

Written by Dr. Karlie Mirabelli, Ph.D.