Speaking Up and Spreading ADHD Awareness

Aja Jensen, Staff Writer

 Back in October, during the SEL lesson about mental health, some students felt angered by the misinformation about ADHD that was being taught to the entire school. No student at Issaquah High should feel misunderstood or misrepresented by their school. 

At first, no one spoke up. Then, over a month later, students anonymously shared their thoughts and feelings about the lesson on social media. One student posted their thoughts, saying, “[The SEL lesson] portrayed people with ADHD as childish and wild with very little self-awareness or control and who need to be tiptoed around. ADHD is a mental disability and a mental battle. It’s so hard, frustrating, and demoralizing to just have ADHD because of the stereotypes and misconceptions. Then seeing people at your own school continue to push these harmful stereotypes that we’re just hyper or lazy or childish makes it so much worse.” Another student added on by saying, “I have researched so much about ADHD and it shows up so much different[ly] in girls and boys, and it’s just so different in every person in general. It was very annoying how they just listed the symptoms for the stereotypical picture of ADHD, the little boy running around, never focused, and can’t sit still. I’ve been dealing with this my entire life and I find it kind of annoying when I hear stereotype “symptoms” of something that is a large part of my personality listed off. I find that it dehumanizes those with ADHD.”

With all the talk about the video, ASB reached out to students over social media apologizing for the misinformation and asked how students thought the topic of mental health should be handled going forward. Still, many other students continued the conversation about the spread of misinformation about ADHD and how it makes it harder for students with ADHD and other mental or learning disabilities to explain themselves and be understood by their peers. 

The unawareness of what ADHD is and how it affects students with it is amplified by the limited, stereotypical way it is taught. Junior Melanie Barry remarked, “It’s hard to have untrue stereotypes push at you all the time. It’s even worse when your peers are being taught those things.” The way that ADHD was taught and brought up in conversation during the SEL lesson, health class, and other mental health discussions makes it seem rare and uncommon, even though according to the CDC, about 10 percent of all children and teens in the U.S. are diagnosed with ADHD. It is not uncommon to have ADHD, but the culture around discussing it makes it seem rare, and adds to the misconceptions about the condition. Sophomore Aydin Ozcan described the process of discovering his ADHD as lonely. “I felt like no one knew what I was going through or understood me.”

Boys are far more likely to receive a diagnosis of ADHD, not necessarily because girls are less prone to the disorder, but because in girls, ADHD presents itself differently. The symptoms are often more subtle, and they do not fit the stereotypes. The main misconception about ADHD is that there is only one type of ADHD, but there are three: Primarily Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD, Primarily Inattentive ADHD (Formerly ADD), Primarily Combined Type ADHD.

People with primarily hyperactive-impulsive ADHD act with little impulse control — moving, squirming, and talking at inappropriate times. They are often impulsive, impatient, and interrupt others. Meanwhile, people with the inattentive subtype of ADHD have difficulty focusing, finishing tasks, and following instructions. They are easily distracted and forgetful. They may be daydreamers who lose track of homework, cell phones, and conversations with regularity. Experts believe that many children with this inattentive subtype of ADHD often go undiagnosed because they do not tend to disrupt the learning environment. Finally, individuals with combined-type ADHD display a mixture of all the aforementioned symptoms.

Another misconception about ADHD is its causes. They remain somewhat unclear, but research suggests that genetics and heredity play a large part in determining who gets ADHD. However, scientists are still investigating whether certain genes, especially ones linked to the neurotransmitter dopamine, play a defining role in developing ADHD. ADHD is not caused by bad parenting, too much sugar, or too many video games. ADHD is a brain-based, biological disorder. According to ADDitude magazine, “The neuroscience, brain imaging, and clinical research tell us a few important things: ADHD is not a behavior disorder. ADHD is not a mental illness. ADHD is not a specific learning disability. ADHD is, instead, a developmental impairment of the brain’s self-management system.”

These misconceptions about the causes of ADHD make telling your friends about getting diagnosed difficult. Freshman Tea Watson said, “I remember back in elementary school and middle school, there was this boy that had the hyperactive type of ADHD and people made fun of him by calling him the ‘ADHD kid.’ So, that’s what I thought it was until I got diagnosed and learned more about it. When I started telling my friends that I got diagnosed, they thought it was like the stereotype of that boy. One person actually called me retarded and another tried to convince me that ADHD isn’t a real thing.” 

After receiving a diagnosis of ADHD, students may experience more difficulties. Implementing the different strategies to address their struggles can be challenging as they change their routines and habits to try to address and improve their focus. It is quite a shift in their lives. When they reach out to friends, they can find that they do not get the support they need because their peers do not understand. The exposure to misinformation, lack of education, and awareness of ADHD are why peers may not understand and be supportive.

Today, children with ADHD are eligible for special education services or accommodations within the regular classroom when needed. Those who struggle with ADHD are at a disadvantage compared to others. A 504 plan can help students overcome their disadvantages but the stigma around ADHD makes it socially difficult to have one. A senior in the process of getting a 504 plan said, “A lot of my friends think that I’m a really good student without the accommodations, so now that I’m trying to get them, they think it’s so I can get ahead and do better, when it’s actually so I can have an easier time because my ADHD makes school so hard.”

ADHD is a lifelong struggle. There are many nuances to ADHD, but the most important message is that many, many people with ADHD manage their treatment effectively and live full and rewarding lives. Neil Peterson, writer of the PsychCentral column ADHD Millennial, said, “Spreading ADHD awareness lowers the odds that people with ADHD will be misdiagnosed by breaking down stereotypes about the disorder that persists even among some medical professionals. And spreading ADHD awareness reminds us as a society that making sure people have access to mental health treatment is worthwhile.”

As a school, we should work towards raising an accurate awareness about ADHD. An effective way to do so is to provide an environment where students with ADHD can share their experiences, giving them a voice to overcome the stereotypes and help educate those around them.