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ADHD: myth busting with Andrew Whitehouse

In this blog, as part of ADHD Awareness Month, Andrew Whitehouse explores some of the ADHD myths he has heard and his thoughts about them.

Posted on Friday 01st October 2021

Hello, my name is Andrew Whitehouse and I’m a specialist in neurological diversities in young people and adults. I’m also an adult who’s diagnosed with ADHD. So, when I was approached by Special Direct (TTS) to talk about myth busting in ADHD for ADHD Awareness Month I jumped at the opportunity, as I felt I was completely qualified to talk about this subject.

As an ADHD person, I hear all sorts of crazy things about what I’m supposed to be and how I’m supposed to behave and all the mad stuff that I’m supposed to do but actually, very little of it is true.

So, let’s dig deep into some ADHD myths shall we?

I suppose the biggest myth really is that we just need a bit of discipline in our lives.

Well, I’m 55 now and when I was young nobody knew I had ADHD as I didn’t get a diagnosis until my late 40s.  Back in the 70s, the accepted way to approach children like me in school was to tell me off, make me write lines, or at home give me jobs that I didn’t want to do. In short, it was all sanctions, and very little in the way of understanding. And guess what? None of this really helped. All it did was to make things worse. So, one would imagine that in enlightened 21st century society, things will have changed. Well maybe a little, but not a lot and in some schools ADHD children are still getting told off for needing to go for a walk at times.

I would strongly argue that me, and most other ADHD people really, just want to conform and be like everybody else it’s just that we can’t fit. It’s not that we won’t. I certainly didn’t want to be different.

The second myth is closely linked to discipline – behaviour. So, let’s discuss challenging behaviour …

First and foremost, nobody wants to be in trouble. Nobody wants to upset people, to annoy people or to cause problems for people. What we are actually talking about when we discuss challenging behaviour is anxious behaviour. Anxious behaviour is a different thing completely. Ok, so the outcome might be the same. The outcome might be shouting at somebody, swearing, running away or whatever it might be, but the reality is it’s not caused by someone wanting to challenge you, it’s caused by somebody who feels so anxious they don’t know any other way through this situation than to react in a negative manner. So, if you think about challenging behaviour as anxious behaviour you will understand it so much more. You really will get a feel for what it is like to have ADHD and the associated anxieties.

People’s perceptions …

Let’s now discuss people’s perceptions of ADHD and the idea that most ADHD people will present with challenging or as I call it, anxious behaviour. This is completely incorrect. Only a third of ADHD people present with anxious behaviour. The other two thirds get on with life just like everybody else. But, and this is a crucial part of the big question, what is that statistic when we’re talking about neurotypical? How many neurotypical people present with these behaviours too? Well, I don’t know, but I’d be willing to guess that in the school setting it’s probably about a third with anxious behaviour and two thirds without! It’s certainly worth considering, how much more anxious is an ADHD person than a neurotypical person.

In my observations, you don’t hear about the ADHD child that doesn’t present with anxious behaviour. You only hear about the ADHD child that does. So, when you’ve got a child who may be sitting at the back of the classroom staring out the window and not really engaging, you may think that they are not really understanding what is happening in class today. Whereas in actual fact what you might have is a really intelligent child that you are not reaching with your current teaching styles and that really is something that we need to think about with ADHD. We need to consider the child who doesn’t present with anxious behaviours as they may well need just as much help.

So, what is the myth around how ADHD people behave?

I’m a professional person and I deliver training on ADHD. In one school recently, the head teacher came out to me and said “oh you’re the gentleman with ADHD, aren’t you?” Now I’m a professional person that does a very responsible job. I make sure that neurodiverse young people get the breaks that they need and the interventions that they require. I said, “Yes I have ADHD” to which she replied, “Well I hope you’re not going to be climbing under the tables”.

This is not really funny. For some people, ADHD seems to be a joke condition when in actuality, it is a serious neurological diversity. Some people seem to make jokes about the child, who in their vision of the world, never sits still, is on a skateboard, with a can of coke in his hand, and all those cliches. Whereas the reality is that these are people that often really struggle in their day-to-day life. They struggle to cope with challenging situations or too much noise, too much pressure or indeed just boredom.

To consider …

I’d like you to consider that young person – their hyperactive legs never stopping, bouncing up and down or fiddling with their hands or constantly blinking or any of those things. What I’d like you to consider is the fact that this person is actually not having a really good time when they’re doing that. Most of the time ADHD people have difficulties paying attention and giving attention to detail and they need guidance and support.

ADHD people are nearly always hyperactive and again that hyperactivity makes you tired. It stops you from sleeping, so they may not always feel good, and they may not always be in the right frame of mind. ADHD people have impulsive behaviours which are really hard to handle because actually what those behaviours do is come with a feeling of guilt for the actions they’ve just undertaken. I’d like you to further consider what you can do to help that person.

When we are talking about myth busting with ADHD, we need to remember this. ADHD people are human beings just like everybody else.

Thank you for engaging with me about myth busting in ADHD. I’d like you to consider what I’ve talked about and just see the ADHD child or indeed adult that you’re working with as someone a little bit different to who you saw just before you read this.

Thank you.

With thanks to Andrew Whitehouse for sharing his thoughts and personal experiences within this blog.

TEDx Speaker and Bamford Lecturer, Andrew Whitehouse is a specialist in neurological diversity and provides interventions for professionals, parents and young people with Autism, ADHD, PDA, Dyslexia and related conditions as well as behavioural interventions. Andrew has a number of roles including training, strategies and therapies for education professionals in early years settings, schools, colleges and universities, observing learners in the learning environment and providing practical solutions to help them achieve their potential.  Andrew has an extensive conference profile and has just published his acclaimed first book available on Amazon.

Andrew Whitehouse

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