Not ADHD Because...

Apr. 3rd, 2017

People get a lot of ideas about what mental illness is and what it is not. Someone might even think they know enough about a specific disorder to inform the person diagnosed with it that they, in fact, can’t possibly be suffering from it because of some disqualifying criteria. Unless that person is a qualified medical practitioner, trained to make official diagnoses of people, and the other person in question is a patient of theirs, I feel strongly that this practice is at best irritating.

No one would make similar statements about physical ailments. “Your arm can’t be broken! It’s a false condition made up by Big Cast Manufacturers.” “Have you tried just... Not having a defective heart valve?” I really wish people who make statements about whether or not someone has a mental illness realized how foolish they sound.

When I disclose my ADHD, I do so very cautiously, as I know many people do, out of fear of the reaction. I just don’t know what the other person might say next. And I’d also like to pause to acknowledge the irony that I’m writing these words on a blog available to anyone with an internet connection.

Here are some statements, some directed toward me, some I’ve heard third-hand, and some from the incomparable Jessica McCabe, AKA How to ADHD on YouTube. I’ll explain why they are all untrue. As far as I am aware, the only thing that can disqualify you from an ADHD diagnosis is having it ruled out by a medical professional qualified to make psychological diagnoses, who is also well educated on the latest information and research on ADHD.

“You can’t possibly have ADHD because you’re so intelligent and get good grades!”

The fact is that having ADHD and being smart are far from mutually exclusive. Despite the fact that many ADHD symptoms can interfere with academic achievement, a lot of people still manage to get good grades, sometimes in part because of their intelligence.

“You can’t possibly have ADHD because you’re so organized and punctual!”

This one I have heard, sometimes just in shock rather than a dismissal of my brain type. The level of organization I have achieved is one I have struggled every day of my life to create and maintain. It is also the only way I can function. My punctuality is fueled by 75% anxiety and 25% organization. I use a system incorporating a reminder app, a fiercely maintained calendar, strict routines, multiple daily alarms, and an organized husband to get me where I need to go when I need to be there. It can be exhausting, but I am lost without it.

“You can’t possibly have ADHD because you can focus on chainmaille, knitting, and crochet!”

People at the events where my husband and I sell chainmaille often say “Oh I’d never have the patience for that.” Imagine their astonishment if I told them I have ADHD. This is, however, a great example of one of the upsides of ADHD: hyperfocus. ADDitude Magazine, How to ADHD, and Rick Green of explain it best. I am really interested in these crafts and therefore I can hyperfocus on them for hours.

“You can’t possibly have ADHD because you’re an adult.”

The theory that every child who had ADHD grew out of it as they grew up has now been disproved. Perhaps you saw the documentary on CBC about adult ADHD?

“You can’t possibly have ADHD because you seem fine.”

This one’s great. How exactly would you determine the presence of an invisible disorder by just looking at someone? And even if you’re talking about behaviors, many, many people with ADHD develop coping mechanisms that mask the challenges they face daily.

“You can’t possibly have ADHD because you aren’t hyper!”

As I’ve talked about before on this blog, ADHD has three subtypes: predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive, and combined. If someone has the inattentive subtype, you may never see any sign of physical hyperactivity from them. Additionally, even if someone does have hyperactive ADHD, a lot of adults learn through painful experience to internalize their impulses and their pain. This can transform the urge to stand up from a chair and walk around into racing thoughts and other deeply unpleasant symptoms.

“You can’t possibly have ADHD because you’re a girl.”

ADHD, unlike some human beings, does not discriminate against either sex. Women are equally as likely as men to have this brain type.

“You can’t possibly have ADHD because everyone’s a little ADHD.”

Ok. Let me break this down for you because this is a complex one:

1. Yes, everyone experiences distraction, procrastination, or impulsivity occasionally, but having ADHD symptoms is not the same as having ADHD.

2. To be diagnosed with ADHD, an individual must have experienced 5 or more symptoms, since childhood, at a level not developmentally appropriate for their age, in a way not better explained by anything else, to a degree that it makes everyday life challenging.

What would make you doubt someone’s diagnosis?