7 Myths (and the Facts) About ADHD

The medical condition isn’t a learning disability and doesn’t always cause hyperactivity

Teen in chair speaking with healthcare provider

If you or your child have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), TikTok and other social media outlets can be a gift. You can find an ADHD community online, share experiences and affirm that you’re not alone. But if you rely on Dr. TikTok and social media for all of your ADHD education, you may not have your facts straight.

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Thanks to social media, ADHD awareness is growing, and videos on the topic abound. Researchers studied the top 100 most popular ADHD videos on TikTok and classified them based on:

  • How clearly they communicated ADHD information.
  • Whether the video provided actionable, quality information.

They found that approximately half of the videos were misleading. Another 25% relied on personal experience instead of clinical data. That means there’s a good chance that social media users are misinformed about ADHD, at least part of the time.

“If you don’t have the right information, you may not get the diagnosis or treatment you need,” says pediatric behavioral health specialist Michael Manos, PhD. “And with ADHD, the right diagnosis and treatment can be life-changing.”

Common myths about ADHD

With all the information available online and through social media, it can be challenging to separate ADHD fact from fiction. Dr. Manos offers the truth about some common ADHD myths.

Myth #1: ADHD isn’t an actual medical condition

There’s no lab test to confirm ADHD, so many people have a hard time believing it’s real.

“They insist that ADHD is a fake condition,” Dr. Manos says. “But there are gene studies consistently indicating that ADHD is a genetic condition.”

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In addition, research studying MRI brain scans of more than 3,000 children and adults found differences in the brain size of kids who have ADHD and those who don’t. The children with ADHD had smaller brains, with noticeable size differences in the parts of the brain associated with emotional control, self-control, memory and learning.

Myth #2: ADHD is overdiagnosed

The rates of ADHD have increased in recent decades regardless of race, sex or socioeconomic status. But Dr. Manos believes the rise is related to an uptick in awareness and symptom recognition, not overdiagnosis.

“If anything, kids are being undertreated and possibly misdiagnosed,” he notes.

One study of more than 235,000 children found that to be especially true for Asian, Black and Hispanic children born in the United States. Those populations are less likely than white children to be diagnosed with ADHD and less likely to receive ADHD medication and treatment.

Myth #3: ADHD is a learning disability

Children with ADHD tend to have difficulties in school, so it’s easy to understand why some people might consider ADHD a learning disability. But Dr. Manos explains that these are two distinct conditions.

“A learning disability often involves difficulty using the symbols of language (letters and numbers),” he says.

Someone with a learning disability typically has trouble with specific academic skills, such as reading, writing or math. ADHD impacts mental skills (executive function), making it hard to organize and focus on details.

“The primary challenge for people with ADHD is directing their attention,” he continues. “Having ADHD can make it harder to do well in school, but it’s not limited to academics.”

Because ADHD affects organization skills and not just schoolwork, talk to your healthcare provider if you’re considering taking an ADHD medication break during vacation.

Myth #4: Children with ADHD are hyperactive

There are three types of ADHD:

  • ADHD, impulsive/hyperactive: It involves acting without thinking and difficulty sitting still, staying on task and slowing down.
  • ADHD, inattentive: Common characteristics include poor concentration, disorganization and being easily distracted.
  • ADHD, combined: Symptoms fall in both categories of ADHD.

Evidence from studies worldwide shows that impulsive/hyperactive ADHD is the least common type in children — inattentive type affects the most children.

“Children with ADHD do tend to be more hyperactive than adults with ADHD,” Dr. Manos clarifies. “Hyperactivity and impulsive behavior typically tone down in adolescence and don’t cause problems in adulthood. But not all children with ADHD show hyperactive or impulsive behavior.”

Myth #5: Male children tend to have worse ADHD symptoms than female children

ADHD is more commonly diagnosed in children assigned male at birth (AMAB). But that may be because they tend to show more hyperactive (and, therefore, more noticeable) symptoms of ADHD than children assigned female at birth (AFAB).

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“ADHD symptoms are often different in boys versus girls,” Dr. Manos says. “Boys are more likely to have ADHD combined type, so they’ll experience hyperactivity, impulsive behavior, distractibility and inattention. Their ADHD may be a bit more complicated, but their symptoms aren’t necessarily worse than the symptoms girls experience.”

Myth #6: ADHD is a childhood problem that goes away

For most people, ADHD is diagnosed in childhood, though the symptoms may change with time. Some people acquire skills that help them manage ADHD, so their symptoms seem less noticeable. Other people find that once school ends, their ADHD isn’t as prominent. But ADHD never entirely disappears.

Dr. Manos explains that as children diagnosed with ADHD become adults, they may:

  • No longer experience symptoms that interfere with daily living.
  • Have symptoms but can more easily manage them.
  • Live with challenging symptoms their entire life.

“Most adults that I diagnose with ADHD have strictly inattentive type, though they may have had a history of being hyperactive-impulsive,” he says. “Your symptoms, executive functioning skills and lifestyle demands can all change, so ADHD can feel different as you age.”

Myth #7: Adults can develop ADHD

It’s true that someone might first receive an ADHD diagnosis as an adult — approximately 3% of adults worldwide live with ADHD. But adults newly diagnosed with ADHD didn’t just develop it. They’ve had it their entire life. Most likely, they’ve just successfully managed the symptoms until now.

One requirement for an ADHD diagnosis is experiencing symptoms in childhood before age 12, even if those symptoms weren’t obvious to everyone else. For example, you may have gotten good grades in elementary school but had to work twice as hard as your friends.

“Most of the adults with ADHD I see have a high intellectual capacity, and they’ve used that intellect to mask the symptoms of ADHD,” Dr. Manos states. “But then, as life becomes more chaotic in adulthood, their intellect can no longer help them manage the overwhelming details of work, family and household.”

Bottom line

The online ADHD community can be a wonderful, supportive place. Just remember that not everything you see and read on social media is necessarily fact. When you have any questions or concerns about ADHD, get in touch with your healthcare provider.

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Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

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