We Need To Stop Asking If ADHD Is Real

We need to stop asking if ADHD is real. Why? Because the question itself matters more than you might think. 

A few years ago, I made plans (read: I scrambled to find childcare, money and time) to attend a parenting event in our area.

The speaker was touted as being one of the best at encouraging dads in their journey, as they parent out of the box kids.

About 20 minutes into the presentation, the speaker brought up the topic of ADHD.

Then the rant began.

ADHD isn’t even a real diagnosis.

Doctors use information that is school based which means the diagnosis must be an excuse to help kids fit in at school, not an actual difference in the brain that can be diagnosed across all circumstances.

ADHD is a way to make boys feel bad about not being girls.

ADHD is really, just an excuse for poorly behaved children. 

I left in the middle of it, angry and discouraged.

asking if adhd is real

This wasn’t the first time I heard it. It certainly wouldn’t be the last.

In fact, one of the common google searches that refers parents to my site is the same question.

Is ADHD real? Or is it just an excuse?

Is ADHD Just An Excuse?

If you parent a child with ADHD, you already know the answer.

You know the answer and yet, you still feel the sense of shame, blame and frustration.

We want to help our children. We have done our best to navigate their needs, public displays, and social differences. We’ve spent years feeling like it’s out fault, trying this reward chart and that discipline technique, and smiling apologetically at the teacher, the stern man in the grocery store, and the gal behind the desk at the pediatrician’s office.

We know, without a doubt. This is real. It is not an excuse, but sometimes, it feels like the world wants it to be.

My son was formally diagnosed with ADHD two years ago, in the same week he received several other diagnoses. At the time, ADHD seemed like the least of our concerns.

In fact, I spent a year wondering how to proceed with his ADHD diagnosis, because I was so fearful of the backlash.

Let me say it another way…

It was easier for me to accept my son’s chronic, life threatening illness diagnosis than it was ADHD – all because of the constant questions and judgement I felt every time it came up.

It seems silly now, but at the time, it made sense.

He is homeschooled. We don’t have to accommodate him in a classroom. He doesn’t need an ADHD diagnosis. He just needs to move.

In hindsight, I can see that denying this reality did not help my son, as we sought to treat and understand his differences.

But the question was still there, lurking all along.

Is ADHD Real?

Yes, it is.

Without a doubt, there is a cultural desire to blame parents for their children’s differences and behavioral disturbances. I think this is what drives this type of questioning and judgement.

The truth is, I wish my son’s ADHD was something that had anything to do with me and my actions.

If ADHD isn’t real and I caused this difference, through lack of discipline, too much discipline, too much screen time, too many dyes or additives in his diet and spoiling him, then I could change my behavior and it would affect his.

Like most parents of children with ADHD, we didn’t come by this diagnosis easily, nor willingly. We tried a million things. From the time he was 18 months old and climbing up on the kitchen table, to last week, when he couldn’t keep track of all of the things he wanted to do, we have changed the environment, the supports, the diets, and the discipline in any way we know how. The one thing that remains constant is ADHD.

Don’t take my word for it. Please, consider the facts.

Important Facts About ADHD

ADHD is not a new disorder.

ADHD isn’t a disorder of the modern age. It may have been first described in the medical literature in 1763 by Scottish physician Sir Arthur Crichton, who observed patients so unable to focus that “the barking of dogs, an ill-tuned organ, or the scolding of women, are sufficient to distract patients of this description to such a degree, as almost approaches to the nature of delirium.” Those patients, he noted, referred to their own symptoms, including anger “bordering on insanity,” as “the fidgets.” – Denise Foley, Time Magazine

ADHD exists around the world in the same approximate percentages of the population.

This is true even in countries with much cleaner diets, and/or little to no access to screens or the information overload we often blame as a cause for ADHD.

ADHD is almost exclusively genetic.

As many as 85% of diagnoses occur in families with existing ADHD features and symptoms. (This rate is incidentally, second only to autism.)

There are documented brain differences.

Brain scans show distinct differences in the brains of children and adults with ADHD versus their neuro-typical counterparts.

Why We Need To Stop Asking If ADHD Is Real

Perhaps this is the most important fact of all.

Ignoring these truths about ADHD devastates our children.

The average ADHD-afflicted child has one to two negative interactions per minute with the people in their lives. What that means is that most of these kids’ interactions with other people are negative. – William Pelham, director of the Center for Children and Families at Florida International University who has authored or co-authored more than 300 papers on ADHD.

As adults, people with ADHD are five times more likely to speed and three times more likely to have their licenses revoked than other people. They’re more likely to experience accidental injuries—burns, poisoning, traffic accidents, all kinds of trauma—than other people. In fact, having ADHD makes you three times more likely to be dead by the age of 45. – Russell Barkley, author of Taking Charge of ADHD

My child has ADHD.

I need to stop spending so much time defending, explaining and questioning his diagnosis. 

I need to spend time learning more about it and helping him live with it, and live with it well. 

I invite you to join me.

For More ADHD Support and Encouragement:

The Best Advice I Have Ever Heard About Parenting A Child With ADHD

The Truth About ADHD and The Middle School Years

When The Child Who Needs Structure Fights It Most

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  1. Great article! Absolutely it’s real. I think people question its validity because they’ve never had experience with it.

    Have you heard of The Nemechek Protocol? It helps repair the systems that have gone awry in those, especially kids but adults also, who are struggling with Autism, ADHD, ADD, developmental delay, SIBO and others. Might be worth checking out. There is a group on Facebook about it as well.

  2. I absolutely believe ADD is real. MY husband is as ADD as they come. And this makes certain things in life much harder for him than for me. However, his brain wiring also makes certain things in life much easier for him than for me. We have had many discussions about this over the years and ultimately, have come to the conclusion that ADD is not a desease in need of curing, but just a different type of brain wiring. It’s something akin to extroversion vs introversion. It’s wrong to say people who are extroverted are “healthy” and people who are introverted have some sort of mental disorder that needs to be treated. (although for many years most psychologists did in fact believe this). I’m not saying medications and therapies aren’t useful to help those with ADD navigate the parts of their lives that are more challenging for them. But I wholeheartedly believe ADD brains are a gift to humanity and many of our most important jobs are perfectly suited to people with this type of brain wiring, it would be a grave mistake to think they all needed to have their brains “fixed” so they could “think and do like the rest of us.”

  3. THANK YOU. If anyone has a “control group”, it’s me, mom of 8. 3 have ADHD—there is a clear and obvious difference in the way they operate and function in our home. I call them my kids with ping-pong ball brains, because that’s how they process all incoming stimuli and information. One is an adult male without an official diagnosis because we just thought he couldn’t sit still (he sought help in college), one is a diagnosed 15yo female who elected to take meds and teach herself strategies, and one is a 12yo male who has me teetering between official diagnosis and helping him learn some tools for managing it all. The Summit is just what I need and great timing!

    1. You really do have a perfect control group, Kendra!
      I think you will LOVE this summit. It’s seriously a highlight for me every year.

  4. Elizabeth Martin says:

    I love your writing style! You really describe so many of my feelings as a mom of special needs children. I’ve been dealing with bipolar and ADHD in two of my children for 26 years now. One is grown-but not “grown out of it” as people often suggest is possible-and the other turns 16 at the end of the month and has had the worst year of her life. Reading your blog helps me not feel so alone!

  5. I am a homeschooling mom with ADD. I can go into hyper focus mode but struggle with changing my focus every 20-30 minutes. I can’t keep track of school work, housework, outside commitments….I feel like I work hard from the min. I get up til I go to bed at night and get farther behind. My house is always a mess. I see moms who do amazing things with their kids, have clean homes, and time to relax. I feel like a failure. Even my husband doesn’t believe ADD is a real diagnosis.

  6. We have a recent diagnosis of dyslexia, dysgraphia and innattentive ADHD with extremely slow processing speed for my almost 9yo son along with an extremely high GAI… so 2e. I’m feeling overwhelmed and unsure but I’m reading through your blog and finding so much encouragement and help.
    I’ve been alternating crying and laughing as I’ve been reading.Thank you.

    I do have a question. He is a summer baby and I noticed him struggling during 1st grade (homeschooled) and so we “re-did” 1st grade (basically continued with the same material). So he technically finished 2nd grade this last month, but most of his same age peers finished 3rd. Should I put him back in as a “4th grader”. Being on the young side for his “grade” I think he’s going to need to be home for that additional year (until just before turning 19) but I don’t want to make him feel “dumb” either and he often doesn’t know how to answer when people ask what grade he is in…. Just curious what your advice would be.

    1. I can tell you that my son is in the same boat. He will be 19 when he graduates from high school and we did slow things down by a year. It felt like a big deal when he was younger, so I totally understand your concern. Now that he is a bit older and in 8th grade (although technically could be in 9th), it has worked out really well, not just academically, but socially.

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