Updated 31 July 2019

7 myths about ADHD debunked

Do you consider yourself well-informed about ADHD? Make sure you aren't deceived by these common myths . . .

Whenever there’s a behavioural aspect to a disorder, there are likely to be a number of misconceptions about it, and ADHS is no exception.   

Let's go ahead and bust a few common misconceptions about ADHD:

Myth 1: ADHD is caused by bad parenting

Hyperactive children are just the result of ineffective parenting. “You just can’t control your child” is a common phrase used by uninformed bystanders.

Fact: Research from Michigan State University shows this is a fallacy and ADHD is not caused by bad parenting. Parenting technique can improve symptoms, or make certain behaviours worse, but it’s definitely not the cause of ADHD.

Myth 2: It’s not a medical disorder

ADHD is simply bad behaviour and is definitely not a diagnosable disorder that warrants medical attention.

Fact: ADHD is a disorder listed in the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and has specific diagnostic criteria. It’s part of the scope of practice of psychologists and psychiatrists to diagnose and treat the disorder, and extensive research has shown a biochemical imbalance in patients.

Read: Could stress be mistaken for ADHD in SA?

Myth 3: Medication will make a person seem drugged

Giving especially to children, strong medication such as Ritalin will only worsen the condition and make them feel drugged most of the time. The idea that it will "take away their personality" is a common conception.

Fact: Whereas ADHD medications are sometimes overprescribed, it is necessary in many cases. The Child Mind Institute’s research shows it can sharpen focus and increase the control a person has over their behaviour. Just like with any other medication, there are side-effects and it is not a one-size-fits-all scenario.

Myth 4: Children outgrow ADHD

ADHD is a childhood disorder and teenagers and adults can’t develop it. As children grow older they outgrow a lot of the symptoms.

Fact: Comprehensive research cited in the textbook “Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry” shows that 70 out of 100 children suffering from the disorder continue to have symptoms as teenagers, and about 50% still have ADHD by the time they reach adulthood.

Read: What's up with Ritalin?

Myth 5: People with ADHD are just stupid and lazy

People who are not intelligent, or are simply too lazy to control their own emotions, develop ADHD.

Fact: ADHD has nothing to do with intelligence, as research from The University of Maryland shows. “People with ADHD span the same IQ range as the general population,” the research found. It’s also not a case of “just being lazy”. Biochemistry limits one’s control in the same way the brain affects behaviour in other psychiatric conditions.

Myth 6: ADHD is a simple case of being hyperactive

Children eat too much sugar and are just hyperactive. They just need to sit still and focus on a specific task.

Fact: Studies from Harvard University show that there’s no definitive proof that diet has an impact on, or can even cause, ADHD symptoms. The crux of the problem is a lack of concentration, and this is not due to a lack of effort. While there are several behavioural interventions, these are often not enough to counteract biological changes.

Myth 7: Someone can’t have ADHD and also suffer from depression

ADHD is a unique disorder, and because of its hyperactivity component you can’t have it and also suffer from other psychiatric disorders.

Fact: A study in the Primary Care Companion Journal of Clinical Psychiatry shows psychiatric disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder are often accompanied by ADHD symptoms. ADHD manifests itself in different ways and it’s often a co-morbid disorder, either as a primary or secondary disorder.

Read more:

Memory training helps kids with ADHD

Most docs don't follow ADHD treatment guidelines

Paracetamol during pregnancy tied to ADHD risk in kids


Ask the Expert

ADHD Expert

Dr Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) since 2008, currently based in Oude Westhof (Bellville). Renata also holds appointments as senior lecturer in Leadership (USB) and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the co-convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation ( She is passionate about corporate mental health awareness and uses her neuroscience background to assist leaders in equipping them to become balanced, healthy and dynamic leaders that take their own and their team’s emotional, intellectual, social health and physical needs into account. Renata is academically active and enjoys research and collaborative work, has published in many peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at local and international congresses. She is regularly invited to present at conferences and to engage with the media. During her post-graduate studies, she trained at Harvard, Boston in neurocognition and neuroimaging. Her awards include, amongst others, the Young Minds in Psychiatry award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Discovery Foundation Fellowship award, a Thuthuka award from the NRF, and a MRC Fellowship. She also received the Top MBA student award and the Director’s award from USB for 2015. She was a finalist for the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s Businesswoman of the Year Award for 2016, and received the Excellence in Media Work award from SASOP during 2016.

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