I get upset by this one. I’ve had a lot of clients tell me that they’d been told they “can’t” be ADHD because:

 

  • They can’t be because they got good grades in school
  • They can’t be because they got a graduate degree
  •  They can’t be because they were never “hyper”
  • They can’t be because they never got in trouble

It seems to me that the existence of ADHD is questioned more than any other mental condition. People on the “Right” think it’s just another excuse for irresponsibility, lack of self-discipline and disrespect for authority. People on the “Left” think it’s just another way to make kids conform to a rigid school system. Everyone seems to think that ADHD is no big deal, unless you’re so hyper you’re bouncing off the walls. Adult ADHD isn’t a “real” problem, at least nothing that a little yoga…or exercise…or Omega 3s…or behavior mod…can’t change. All it takes is for the ADDer to work a little harder…pay more attention…care more!

So then I have clients come to me in their 30s, 40s and 50s who have Master’s degrees and Ph.D.s but have never been able to handle work issues well enough to have a successful career. Or who’ve been lucky enough to find a career that perfectly suits them, only to come home at night and go to pieces from the effort to maintain a normal home and family life. They’ve spent decades either thinking or being told that they’re lazy, stupid, careless, uncaring, immature, or bizarrely defective, wondering what repressed trauma must have happened to them to make them so inexplicably self-defeating. Some of them have been on practically every doggone psychotropic drug out there with hardly any relief – every med, that is, except the ones for ADHD.

When they finally get on the proper dose for them of an ADHD medication and learn about how ADHD has affected them, the fog clears and they finally start to feel better. Does it mean their ADHD disappears? Unfortunately, no. But their symptoms become manageable. They finally can focus well enough to have a good home life or pursue goals equal to their true abilities.

So is ADHD over-diagnosed? Absolutely not, at least when it comes to adults. There’s good evidence to suggest that it’s over-diagnosed among low-income children in bad schools, but at the same time it’s probably missed in millions of smart but disorganized kids of all races and classes. ADHD is real. It’s not caused by psychological trauma, or too much television, or the wrong kinds of food, or bad parenting, or bad schools. (Those things can exacerbate it, but they don’t cause it.) It’s found in every country in similar proportions whenever it’s looked for, and in every cultural and ethnic group. And the sooner it’s recognized and treated for what it is, the greater the chance of not getting stymied by it.