ADD/ADHD and Social Stigma
Widespread misconceptions and fears about ADD/ADHD can lead to problems for both children and adults with this often misunderstood disorder.
By Hugh O'Neill
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The challenges of attention deficit disorder (ADD)/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are not always limited to the primary symptoms — people with ADD/ADHD must also contend with social stigmas, according to Jane McLeod, PhD., professor of sociology at Indiana University and co-author of a study about public attitudes toward ADHD and other psychological issues. "We were surprised to discover just how many misconceptions there are about ADHD, and how much prejudice people with ADHD may face."
To begin with, almost two-thirds of the people surveyed had never heard of ADHD. But even among those who had, ignorance about the condition was apparent. Some said they thought ADHD was just a convenient medical excuse to justify bad behavior in children. Others attributed it to a lack of discipline or to over-indulgent parenting. "There also seems to be a link in people's mind between ADHD and mental illness," reports McLeod. Almost a third of those surveyed thought that children with ADHD could be dangerous, and 25 percent said they wouldn't want their kids to be friends with a child who had ADHD.
Discrimination at School and Work
Children with ADD/ADHD are often shunned by other kids in school. Although McLeod says this may be because ADHD kids aren't as good at picking up on social cues, there is some evidence that the social difficulty faced by children with this disorder stems from prejudice attached to the ADHD label. This discrimination doesn't just come from other students and their parents — it sometimes comes from the teachers. "Most teachers mean well," according to Blythe Grossberg, Psy.D, author ofMaking ADD Workand the upcomingTest Success, "but it's only natural that they gravitate toward kids who are less distractible and easier to deal with. Children with ADD often get overlooked." This type of stigmatization also follows people with ADD/ADHD into the workforce. "Many people with adult ADHD don't reveal their problem at work out of fear that their employers will think of them as damaged. It's as though they're living in the closet," says Grossberg. "And so, they can't get the help they need to make big contributions."
The public also has widespread negative feelings about medications often used to treat ADHD, according to McLeod. Many people believe these drugs are over-prescribed and that parents and doctors are relying on medications to manage normal behavioral issues, which most surveyed believed only worsen the problem. Although there are certainly cases of medication being used recklessly, two leading experts in the field of ADHD, Edward Hallowell, M.D. and John Ratey, M.D, argue that, if anything, medications areunder-prescribed — and that many more people with ADHD could be successfully treated if they sought help.
We have a long way to go in changing attitudes about ADHD, says McLeod. "Children's television programming is still rife with jokes and diminishing stereotypes about kids who don't fit in, children who are a little different." Young people with ADD/ADHD need a lot of support in dealing with the academic challenges of this disorder as well as the social hurdles, according to Grossberg. Often children are made to feel defective, but they're just different. "In fact, I believe that ADHD brains are often more creative and insightful than so-called normal brains.
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