We knew from the time Lucas was a toddler that he was different from other kids in his peer group. While the other preschool kids sat attentively through story time and coloring projects, Lucas was the child who wriggled, paced, climbed, jabbered, tapped, hummed, and sang his way through the day.

Now eight, Lucas has been diagnosed with ADHD. My husband and I have discussed his diagnosis with friends, family, coworkers, and teachers, sometimes simply to inform them of the diagnosis and sometimes because we’re hoping to learn some useful behavioral modification techniques we haven’t yet come across in our research. But these discussions don’t always go the way we expect. There is still a lot of ignorance about what ADHD is and isn’t, and what it does and doesn’t imply about a child and their parents. Here are the top ten ignorant reactions I’m regularly confronted with during conversations about my child’s ADHD:

1. “Being distracted is normal. Who isn’t distracted these days?” My phone is distracting. I love social media and sometimes I’m on Facebook when I should be folding laundry, cleaning a toilet or paying bills. But when the hammer’s about to fall, I can flip a switch in my brain, turn off my phone and make magic happen. A kid with ADHD doesn’t have that switch. My son could have his homework sitting directly in front of him and be so absorbed in his own imagination that he literally cannot even see the paper in front of him.

2. “He’s just being a kid. All kids act a little crazy sometimes.” Any medical professional will tell you that attentiveness and distractibility exist on a spectrum, just like autism. It’s time we laypeople get with the program and stop shrugging off ADHD as “normal kid craziness.” We need to recognize that when a parent says “hey, my kid is out of control and nothing I’ve been doing is working” that they mean it and they are not crazy. Yes, all kids act crazy sometimes and to varying degrees. So do adults, sometimes and to varying degrees. The determining factor with ADHD is the degree to which and the frequency with which this “craziness” occurs.

3. “He just needs to try harder.” If you’ve ever worked one-on-one with a child who suffers from ADHD and who is trying to complete a homework task that they find challenging or tedious, you will see just how hard these kids try. It is a heartbreaking thing to witness.

4. “The real problem is that he’s bored.” Yes, sometimes distractibility becomes more pronounced when a child with ADHD is bored. But no, that is not why the child is presenting symptoms of ADHD. A neurotypical child can force himself to pay attention, even when bored. That is the difference.

5. “He must not be getting enough discipline at home.” Discipline is important in any household, but the implication that ADHD can be cured with discipline is absolutely ridiculous. That households exist with ADHD children and neurotypical children under the same roof is evidence that this assertion holds no merit.

6. “Why wouldn’t you medicate him? You’d medicate him if he had diabetes, right?” Diabetes is a life-threatening illness, ADHD is not, unless we get into discussions of comorbidities such as anxiety and depression, and even then, ADHD is still not immediately life-threatening. Of course these risk factors should still be considered when a family is making decisions with their qualified healthcare professional, but we really need to stop comparing apples to oranges on this one. Diabetes is not ADHD. Let it go, people.

7. “Don’t medicate him! He’ll turn into a zombie!” That you have a medicated, glassy-eyed cousin who speaks in a monotone is not justification for you to offer your unsolicited advice on the subject of whether or not I medicate my child. The decision to medicate or not is a private one, between a family and their qualified healthcare professional. Kindly butt out.

8. “He focuses fine when he wants to; he must not really have ADHD.” This one drives me nuts, but I get it. There are days when Lucas focuses so well that I question the last seven years of my sanity. Maybe he doesn’t have ADHD. Maybe I’ve imagined the whole thing! And then I get a stack of unfinished work from the teacher that looks like squirrels nibbled on the corners and all is right in my world again. I’ll tell you what parents of children with ADHD already know: ADHD is both relentless and fickle.

9. “Don’t worry; he’ll grow out of it.” Some kids grow out of ADHD around puberty; most do not. Lucas will likely struggle with ADHD for the rest of his life, and though I know the phrase “he’ll grow out of it” is meant to be comforting, I really wish people would stop saying it. We parents of ADHD children need to face reality head on and develop workable solutions, not indulge promises of “maybe later things will be better.”

10. “He just needs to learn to pay attention better.” Haha. Hilarious.

lucas little

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  1. I love this. I have suspicions about my son but he seems to be able to pull it together at school so I’m assuming that indicates he’s not ADHD. But man is he wild at home.

  2. I totally thought you were sending ME the link for my own post from a few months ago 20 Things To Stop Saying to Parents of ADHD Children! Get. Out. Of. My. Head!

    • Aw man, I just went and read it. If anyone ever said “I’m glad he’s not my child” to me I would kick them right in the junk. Actually, I would imagine kicking them in the junk because I’m very averse to confrontation. 😛

  3. Absolutely. We struggle with misconceptions and well-meaning, if hurtful advice (doesn’t hurt me, but I am not the only one that hears). My poor little squirrel has very low self esteem, partly from lack of friends (she fits in well with the boys, but she sooo longs for little girl friends). and partly from hearing adults in her life describe her as bad or disruptive. She cries and asks why she is bad, why she is stupid…it’s gotten better with controlling her diet and adding things like martial arts and a dog that has her same energy level, but she still works so hard. Which, of course, may benefit her later…she knows to not give up. The only thing that keeps her teachers in check (because they do think she is just ill-behaved), is the 50 + page psychologist’s report of her extensive testing which allows her a 504 (we wanted to make sure it wasn’t just frustration from not having enough physical activity or something else). And the fickle part—absolutely. She has a few triggers which make things worse; but some days I have on-task executive elementary schooler, and on other days, she’s my butterfly-puppy.

  4. I have ADD.. I don’t medicate for my ADD. I do medicate for the anxiety and depression that go with it. Along the lines of number eight, hyperfocus. My daughter exhibits many symptoms of ADD. She remains undiagnosed. She is doing fine in school. Yes she struggles. No meds won’t necessarily help her. It is not a matter of discipline. I think I tend to actually be too soft on her sometimes because I know what is in her head. I understand the thought process that lead to that. There are ways to battle ADD and ADHD without medication.

  5. My favorite people are the ones who deny ADHD exists altogether. Nothing like people playing down my kid’s challenges because they don’t understand what ADHD is.

    Well written, madam.

    • I just read a comment like that on a NY Times article and it made me extremely stabby. I had to close the window. Grrrr.

  6. christine

    I have a son that is ADHD and ODD and it has been a big challenge for us because of all the time he needs and that we have three other kids on top of it but I would not change a thing about him or my life because it has been a blessing and a great privilege to be his mom:-) I also want to say it does get easier as they grow up, he is now almost 17 years old,he wont have one bad day for month’s then out of no where he will have one or two. I love my sweet boy:-) thank you for sharing.

  7. Excellent, excellent article. So very point on with everything you said. Number 6 hit it right on the nail with me and my boy. We had a teacher call me out during a parent teacher conference comparing me to her and her sons issues and how medicating him saved his life and how I was basically harming my child because I chose to NOT medicate him. Thank you for this.

  8. This is great information! Mine is only 7 months so we haven’t had to deal with anything like this yet. Might I suggest your next blog post?

    What things are helpful to say or do?

    I am sure I will know someone – my own children or a friends – who have ADD or ADHD and am wondering how I can be positive, supportive and helpful.


    • I think as with so many things people struggle with, a simple and easy response to have on hand is to say “I’m so sorry you’re having a hard time. What can I do to help?” But you’re right – there are other things I can add to this. This could be a great blog post!

  9. I feel like you are writing this directly for me. #3 brought tears to my eyes. You can not truly understand the struggle that goes with having ADHD unless you live it each and every day. I wouldn’t change my girl for the world though. She is the most loving, compassionate, sweetest girl even though every day is a constant struggle she will never let it get her down. Thanks for posting!!

  10. I myself, was diagnosed with ADD and ODD when I failed Grade 6, and went through a lot of testing, and went to a Child Psychologist. I was medicated (Ritalin), and no, I was not a zombie. If it is monitored properly, with the proper dosage, it is very beneficial. I would not have gotten through school had I not been medicated. I only took the Ritalin during the school year, and stopped once I graduated High School, as long term use can cause depression, if continued into adulthood. I have grown out of it for the most part, and I do not take anything now, as an adult (35), but I still have days where my ADD affects me and my daily routines. Example: Took me and hour and a half to fill out a 2 page job application. I now have a 5 year old Daughter, who portrays very similar behaviours and tends to be distracted often. Most noticeable right now is what was mentioned in the first paragraph of this Article (constantly figitting and making noise), and often she doesn’t even realize she is doing it. I am hoping I am wrong in my suspicions, because I know how difficult it is. Luckily, I was not burdened with the hyperactivity, as my Brothers were/are, which is a whole other level. My parents can tell you, its not a matter of discipline or control, as my upbringing was very disciplined and my parents were far from push-overs. The things my Mom went through with my older Brother, I can’t even imagine how she is still sane, today. People need to stop judging others, when it comes to things they just don’t understand. I highly recommend researching ADD & ADHD, if you don’t understand it. Its NOT the parents’ fault, or the Childrens’, and judging them or putting them down is not going to help their already fragile self esteem or frustration (both symptoms of ADD & ADHD). Hats off to all the Moms & Dads that are raising children with ADD, ADHD, and/or ODD!!

  11. My now 14 son has ADHD and ODD. Medication and understanding teachers have helped us. High school he has come into his own. 45min classes a break and then a different class with a different mix of kids the best thing for him. He is finally showing how intelligent he is and he does his assignments mostly on time with little help or prompting. He will never out grow his condition but we now have the mix of medications right. It has been a long journey but now we are seeing the benefits. Is it perfect No but it is sooo much better than it was. I hate the weekends he doesn’t take his medication because he wants to eat he has grown 20cm in the last 2 yrs unfortunately we then see the annoying behaviors back. The change is astounding. Friends and relatives now have seen both sides to my gentle son and all agree the medicated treated boy is so different from the annoying can’t keep out of your face unmedicated child. Hang in there. The road is long but worth it. I have friends with sons older who have helped me make the decisions we have as tgey have been there and wished they had listened to the doctors advice earlier. So I am benefiting from their mistakes. Hugs to you all as we deal daily with the joy of this

  12. I love your gritty and honest answers to these ADHD myths. The explain the intricacies of ADHD so simply and accurately, like when you say that kids who don’t have ADHD can attend even when bored and kids with ADHD cannot. That’s not a choice for our kids — they don’t say, “Well, this is boring so I’m just going to buck the system and do my own thing” — they CANNOT attend if they are not interested. It’s maddening, but physiological, not their character.

    One thing I do take issue with is your judgement of equating taking medication for ADHD with taking medication for diabetes. Yes, diabetes is immediately life threatening and ADHD is not, but ADHD can absolutely be life threatening through risky behavior, self-medicating, or lack of self-esteem. Studies show that kids whose ADHD is treated are less likely to turn to alcohol and illegal drugs later and are less likely to become addicts. For my son, he was insanely sad all the time at just 5 years old. When nothing else worked, medication saved him (yes, I really do feel it “saved” him). We still struggle with one aspect or another daily (he’s 12 now), but it gives him a chance at happiness, success, and glimpses of peace.

    When writing about ADHD and medication, I usually equate ADHD meds to eyeglasses, they aren’t required for an individual to continue breathing, but they improve quality of life and bring everything into focus.

    Penny Williams
    Author of “Boy Without Instructions: Surviving the Learning Curve of Parenting a Child with ADHD” and “What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting ADHD”

    • Thanks so much for your comment, and I can’t wait to check out your books! I think, at the most basic level, we actually agree about the diabetes comparison. For brevity’s sake, I only glossed over the comorbidities you mentioned, but I absolutely agree they are huge concerns and CAN become life-threatening. My point is that people who are not medical professionals ought not offer this comparison as unsolicited advice to parents who are struggling trying to help their ADHD child. The dangerous issues that can crop up alongside ADHD are for the parents and healthcare provider to monitor, not for a layperson to throw out as a vague comparison. I love the eyeglass comparison, though! That seems more apples-to-apples to me. =)

  13. I have just put my eldest boy (diagnosed with ADD aged 7) thru school (he’ll be 19 at Christmas) and it’s only now that I realise how tough the last 14 years were – particularly the last 6 – we had phone calls every week from at least one teacher and he was suspended 4 times. So now, I have suddenly started living again – I feel so liberated. He hasn’t suddenly matured or anything, but he’s beginning to take some responsibility for himself – it’s slow work, but we’re getting there … and his younger brothers and sister are benefitting from a less stressed mum. But I do feel that our parenting skills were questioned, even tho’ the younger 3 are ‘normal’ . Getting the oldest lad thru school was hard, hard work, and I think only parents with children who have ADD/ADHD will appreciate that Yeeeehah moment when he graduated!

  14. Both my husband and my younger cousin have ADHD. My husband is no longer medicated and has learned to control most of his outbreaks, but he still has his struggles. I personally find it endearing and think it adds humor to our relationship, but the older generation in my family still hold the opinion that ADHD is an excuse for bad patenting. That means that, after eight years I STILL have to explain to my family why my husband is making random noises, can’t sit still, or doesn’t seem to be paying attention when they talk. It can get frustrating, especially when I’m met with “He’s a grown man! It’s time he stopped making excuses for acting childish!”
    His mother kept him over-medicated when we met in high school (three pills at once chased with coffee), causing him to be very zombie-esque. It also caused a lot of medical problems which led to me urging him to speak to his doctor about weaning off of it.
    I realize there is a risk of any child we have also being born with this condition as it runs in my husband’s family. I am just thankful that I was able to learn how to deal with it through my husband so I am prepared in the event my child also has this condition. I am always so happy to hear about parents that recognize their child’s conditions and then help with said conditions rather than popping pills in them and then ignoring the problem.

  15. I have ADHD, and one of the better descriptions I’ve seen is that is not really a deficit of attention, but rather an inability to regulate what I pay attention to. That’s very true, I have no problem focusing on something for long periods, it’s just that I can’t control what my brain decides to focus on.

    • YES. Absolutely. I’ve heard people say that it should be called “Attention Regulation Disorder.” I agree with his.

  16. Love the people who say, “But his brother seems to do great so he just needs to be more like him.” Yes, and they should be more like a flipping mute. There are also those who say, “Let him fail. That will shape him up quickly.” Yeeesssss, that worked great for his ADHD father who never had anyone looking out for him and now struggles through his days just trying to remember to eat. And why is it that just because he cannot sit still in class, sings all the time and likes to make people laugh that he is a failure! Maybe we need to look at how we school these kids and change schools to meet THEIR needs. Grrrr

  17. Pingback: ABANDONING PRETENSE4 Tips for Helping a Child with ADHD - ABANDONING PRETENSE

  18. OMG so well put. We’re just going thru the testing and diagnosing now with our daughter, but we’ve suspected it for a while. Finally we decided enoughs enough and to see if we can find out for sure. The doctor said he does believe her to be ADHD, but is going thru the process because I want an actual diagnoses, that way I feel better about the choices made for our daughter. That and hopefully, maybe that diagnosis will mean more help and resources for her. I’ve seen how good she can do when she can focus, but I’ve also seen what she does when she can’t.

    • It felt good for us to finally have a diagnosis for Lucas. We knew, of course, but having the diagnosis opened doors for assistance from school. He’s doing so much better now. 🙂