ADHD can affect anyone regardless of age, culture, gender, ethnicity, or social class. Public attitudes and beliefs expose them and their loved ones to prejudice and discrimination. Internalization can result in embarrassment or self-loathing. There are strategies to turn these negative perceptions around over time.
The challenges of ADHD are not always limited to primary symptoms. In 2001, the World Health Organization declared stigma and the associated discrimination towards persons suffering from mental and behavioral disorders to be “the single most important barrier to overcome in the community.”
Ignorance reigns supreme as a cause of the problem of stigma toward people with ADHD. More than ⅔ of people in the United States and Canada have never heard of the disorder. Myths and misconceptions also lend to challenges in understanding. There are many, but here are a few. Let’s dispel stereotypes with the facts.
- It is not a medical condition. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), ADHD is a valid disorder with severe, lifelong consequences.
- It’s a new thing. In 1902, pediatrician described a group of children who were hyperactive, impulsive, and inattentive.
- It is an excuse for failures. For most, the harder they try, the worse things get for them.
- It only exists in the United States. ADD/ADHD is found in every country worldwide.
- Ineffective parents are the cause. Research shows that it is most often inherited.
Stigmatization is something that is done to one’s self-esteem. The effects not only cause difficulties in life, it can increase stress. This can be transferred to more serious symptoms. The circular negative motion creates a cycle that is difficult to reduce.
People and families who are unprepared and without counsel often have their resilience worn down. Looking within provides a good place to start. Learning to be aware of their abilities and value is one way to counteract negative comments.
Fortunately, some seem to be able to endure the uniqueness of being diagnosed with ADHD. Treating their differences as a source of notoriety, they find fame and congratulate themselves. They discover ways to enjoy the attention that this brings.
Another trip in the WayBack Machine…
Ahh. A beautiful, sunny afternoon. Just said goodbye to my little princess Odie. NOTE: This was really long ago so I didn’t have my Rottweiler.
Revving up to the small mansion. Hopped out of my little car with a stack of math textbooks. Ringing the doorbell, I had to wonder…can mansions really be small? BUSTED! I was staring at the puffy clouds when the door opened.
“Hi, I’m Margie. Rory has ADHD and everybody at her school knows it. She’s in all advanced classes because she’s smart. I have to go to school every week because she needs her accommodations. Now she doesn’t like adults, but she’ll like you. Everybody likes you. I know because I know everybody at…”
An hour later, I never said a single word. Just held my breath…Yikes!
Finally, a break in the action.
“Hi, I’m Rory. I like you because you stand up to my Mom. I’m cool that everyone knows that I have ADHD. I know that you can help me.”
Three Black women with smiles all around. We know, 3 gigantic egos too.
Let the games begin…
Beginning with school authorities, educators must remember to address behaviors based on the disability, not blame the individual. Teachers may feel contempt for deviant behaviors and low academic performance. There are additional social challenges as students with ADHD are shunned, less favored by friends. Bullying is common.
Overcoming the stigma of ADHD relies on knowledge and understanding. Both families and students are burdened as there is a lifetime persistency on the reaction of others. Putting things in perspective by seeing selves realistically. Empowerment. That’s the way.
- Speak out against injustice.
- Write a letter explaining details of your situation.
- Get involved with advocacy groups (CHADD, ADDA).
- Read. Research. Get educated.
- Remember that negative feedback may occasionally be valid and valuable.
Stigma thrives in silence. During the last 10 years, an increasing number of studies have been undertaken to expel the negative perceptions of ADHD. The belief is that the overall construct is changeable, with time and knowledge.
How have stigmas against ADHD impacted you?