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Breaking the Silence of ADHD Stigma

By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
Associate Editor

Breaking the Silence of ADHD Stigma “Stigma thrives in silence but tends to fade when people are open and we can put a face to a condition or situation,” according to Ari Tuckman, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and author of Understand Your Brain, Get More Done: The ADHD Executive Functions Workbook. The good news is that people are speaking up, and the stigma surrounding attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is shrinking.

It’s also decreasing thanks to well-designed studies, said Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D, a psychotherapist and author of several books on ADHD, including Adult ADD: A Guide for the Newly Diagnosed. “Research is showing more and more that ADHD is a true biological [and] genetic disorder,” she said.

The bad news is that stigma and stereotypes still persist. Psychotherapist Terry Matlen, ACSW, along with other ADHD experts and advocates wrote a piece on ADHD myths almost 10 years ago. Sadly, she said, the misconceptions today are still the same.

3 Comments to
Breaking the Silence of ADHD Stigma

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  1. “Stigma thrives in silence”

    Actually it requires shouting. The more shouters, the more the thriving.

    Harold A. Maio, retired mental health editor

  2. It came to me as a surprise that ADHD is a lifelong disorder. Yes, this means ADHD sticks with you for life! And to a greater extend, many people are undiagnosed and untreated. Imagine the harm and obstacles that it will bring to them at home, in relationships, and in workplace. Fortunately, one can seek help at http://www.chadd.org (A Non-Profit Organization)

  3. I love this quote: “Suggesting that attention deficit disorder can be controlled or corrected with willpower is ‘similar to asking a person with severe myopia (nearsightedness) to try harder to see the street sign without his glasses on’”. People tell me all the time that I “wouldn’t have AD/HD” if I would “just pay attention more” or that “you think you have AD/HD because you don’t want to control it”, especially my parents. Excuse me, I would almost give anything for “not being able to focus” to be a daily, continuous struggle for me. I don’t choose to have a brain that runs a million miles a minute 24/7. I do the best I can with practicing yoga and attempting meditation, but it just doesn’t go away if “I try to focus more.”

    • Juli,
      you are doing all the right things! meditation, yoga EXERCISE, exercise, exercise! Keep practicing your meditation.Dont say you are attemting it, if you are making an effort, you are “practicing” meditation. Google “yoga nidra” a guided meditation. It works for me! I have struggled with ADHD all my life. I have created a job as an artist out of thin air, I love doing what I do. YOU CAN DO IT! except it, embrace it and say screw you to the doubters and haters. You are special! go get em kid!

  4. A wonderful article Margartia. My contribution doevails with Ari Tuckman, whom I deeply respect (and bought his book on Executive Functions and ADHD). We do not have to self expose to stand up against misunderstandings for ADD or any number of disorders.

    I am so appreciative for the mental health professionals who have researched this disorder deeply, like Dr. Russell Barkley, who a champions for the cause. The amount of knowledge I have learned in the past 6 months has helped me tremendously.

    However, in closing I will state that if I could I’d take out a restraining order against my ADHD! Or, as I’ve seen recently, that makes me chuckle “ADHD and Lovin’n it”; exactly what kind of drugs are they on? I want some.

  5. As a mother of four girls, I was concerned when my oldest daughter was diagnosed with ADHD, but not surprised. Her fun loving attitude went only so far, until it caused constant disruption in the classroom and her grades began to fall. One can imagine my surprise when my third in line was just diagnosed with ADHD as well. Her symptoms were not as present,and she is much more reserved than her sister. She has personality in abundance, in reference to Matlen stating otherwise, and other than her grades and comprehension in school, she is not weak in her sprite-like character. I kept trying to understand why she would perform poorly on school work, and seemed to struggle with the same basic learning concepts over and over. I held her back in first grade, not understanding her true disorder. I am not a parent who believes in throwing a child on medication, but I am a parent who does not want to see my child continue to fail. She was in danger of failing her grade earlier this year, so I had her tested. For anyone who knows me, responsible parent is what I aim to be, and I felt like a failure not recognizing she was not disliking school because she just did not like it, but because she was truly not getting it. I started her on medication, and she went from, as she shared with me,”raising my hand and always getting the answer wrong, to now getting it right!” Tears stung my eyes when I considered how hard she must have tried, to still raise her hand knowing she would get it wrong. When she finally passed a test, she came home more excited about school than she ever has been. I commend the author for pointing out how ADHD is a neurological disorder. A doctor shared with me a simple explanation. “There are nerves that send messages back and forth from the eye to the brain. When these messages are not traveling properly, glasses are recommended to strengthen those nerves.” This works similarly with ADHD. We would not want to watch our children walk around squinting their whole life because we refused to get them glasses, why would we not want to give them the edge that will promote comprehension and help them start learning successful life skills early on.

  6. I am a 40 year old IT professional with ADHD. I have been a victim of the stigma that goes along with it since the day I entered school. I have been encouraged at the strides that have been made to legitimize this condition. However, I am very concerned about the frequency which I am seeing ADHD medication warnings on the television news lately. These “News” stories are focusing on the abuse of ADHD medication by those without ADHD for academic achievement. The piece I saw this morning was primarily focusing on parents who knew the “Buzz words” to get a diagnosis for their child. The news anchor compared it to steroid abuse. It was refereed to as academic doping. They also brought up adults who simply take it to “unfairly” gain an advantage in the workplace. All of these types of articles are increasing the stigma against those of us who have had to fight this sort of thing all of our lives.
    Someone needs to fight for us.
    Chadd and ADDA do allot of good work, but we seem to be against some very powerful forces who seem to think ADHD is an excuse for underachievement or bad behavior. It seems to me that it is up to all of us to fight back. We need to do something about this. Start a petition, like I did. I wish everyone could experience for a day what it is like to be highly intelligent and dedicated, while struggling with the symptoms and stigma associated with ADHD.

  7. Been Diagnosed with adult ADHD… and kinda slowly… Liking the benefits..

    I think one of the main stigmas attached to ADHD it’s name.. ADHD is not a disease!
    It’s not something that is only cured / treated by meds..

    There are other studies that show that it’s not some deficiency in the brain but rather that the brain processes info differently.
    If some one is a genius do we call it a disease or tell them to take meds? No we applaud them..
    There are great benefits to having ADHD… the biggest one is that we THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX. a lot of famous people have ADHD and learning ‘disorders’.
    I strongly believe that these things are termed disorders simply because they do not fit in with society’s ‘standard’ for functioning (which varies greatly from culture to culture)

    what is interesting is that the new DSM will be changing it’s criteria making easy for many more people to be diagnosed as ADHD. with that said is it a epidemic? more people being diagnosed also mean more meds… do you see where I’m going?

    To me the fact that many people have this ‘condition’ signifies that their are variations in genes.. nothing more… the drugs only help us to conform to society’s norms as opposed to us chartering our own path and manipulating the gift of the ADHD brain…. the reason we take these drugs and try so hard to ‘control’ it is simply because we want acceptance…
    I for one am tired of trying to fit in… I was created differently from my fingerprints to my gait (which no one else has…. is this a disorder?) all the way to the way my beautiful mind works…

    Being Diagnosed with ADHD does draw stigma and words and attitudes can hurt. but I have left it to “they don’t understand” and what people don’t understand they often ridicule.

    What I’m doing know is looking into how my brain works and the things (having this type of processing) I can do that ‘normal’ people cant…

    One thing I have found… this ADHD… allows me to have the most brilliant ideas!!

    So don’t think of it as a disorder …look at it as a difference Attention deficit means lack of attention .. Attention difference means (for me) that my attention is elsewhere – so my attention isn’t lack…its very much there, Just not where you (or me sometimes) may want it to be Hyperactivity Difference.. you got more energy to give out than most..
    being able to hyperfocus is a major plus..(which normal person can that?) it means I can get the job done excellently -once its a job I like- so that simply means I need to be true to me.. and follow my passion because that’s where my hyperfocus will be..

    yes to some I may seem annoying, or ‘loud’ but hey how did world leaders appear?…hmm

    I’m not on any meds because I have chosen to first figure out what makes me tick before I start taking medication that gives me more undesired side effects.

    I know some may see me as cocky but i’m being real.. I have a gift – a way of processing info that majority of people have – they call it ADHD because they still don’t understand and all they can see are the negative side effects… maybe I ill diagnose them as having out the box thinking disorder… al the brilliant people were said to have some disorder… why? and who decided that what they had was a disorder to begin with? a non-brilliant person? Think about it…

    so with all that said, to all the ADHD people out there young and old you have an Attention Difference Hyperactivity Difference! and that difference destines you for greatness!! Yes the side-effects of that difference may be hard to deal with at times.. but channel it the right way and who knows…you may just be the next one to make world impact!

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