The Stigma Surrounding ADHD – who should you tell?

Being diagnosed with ADHD at age 30 was a huge relief for me! But I soon came to realize that not everyone shared my excitement about my diagnosis. So, how do I cope with the stigma I meet surrounding ADHD diagnosis?

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I was diagnosed with ADHD three years ago, and among the MANY lessons I’ve learned since then, one of the most valuable has been learning to be cautious regarding whom, when, and where I share my diagnosis. There is still a lot of stigma surrounding ADHD diagnosis. Although my diagnosis has been an enormous relief to me, I’ve had to learn the hard way that other people don’t really understand what ADHD is. A lot of people react by wrinkling their nose like it is something I should be ashamed of.

When I first told my mom about my diagnosis, she immediately disregarded the notion, saying, “Of course you don’t have ADHD!” I believe that to her, the disorder was something that only afflicted people of low standing, and was an indicator of stupidity or my having a low IQ. It took continual insistence on my part that I did, in fact, have ADHD to convince her. She started to educate herself on the subject and quickly accepted my diagnosis. She even expressed regret that we had not known about it sooner. The diagnosis would have been incredibly helpful information during my teenage years.

 

Why is there still stigma surrounding ADHD?

Unfortunately, my mother’s initial reaction is not uncommon. The reveal of my diagnosis has been met with everything from shock to complete dismissal. Some people have even had the nerve to tell me they don’t believe ADHD is a real disorder. Instead, many view the label as an excuse for people to be lazy, rude or merely incompetent.

It’s offensive, annoying and above all, exhausting.

But honestly, I can’t blame people. Before my diagnosis, I was of the same beliefs as my mom and a lot of other people. Because of the lack of understanding surrounding the diagnosis, I have learned that sharing my diagnosis is not always the best route. It often leads to people distancing themselves from me, before we even get a chance to know each other. It’s like some people think that having ADHD somehow makes me less human.

 

So where do we go from here?

My experiences remind me how important it is that we continue to educate people on the disorder. We have to change the narrative surrounding ADHD. Trying to play a small part in that re-education of my fellow earthlings, here are some facts that I believe help debunk the stigma surrounding ADHD

  • ADHD has nothing to do with intelligence. My IQ is in the top 6% range, and a lot of highly intelligent people in history are believed to have had the disorder (including Albert Einstein and John F. Kennedy)
  • ADHD is not an excuse for being lazy. In fact, one could argue that people with ADHD have to work harder, considering a lot of everyday tasks are made more difficult because of the disorder. ADHD affects your executive functioning, which is responsible for your ability to follow directions, impulse control and ability to shift and maintain focus.
  • People with ADHD can still lead fully functioning lives and have fully functioning relationships. Just as the disorder doesn’t make us any less intelligent, it also doesn’t make us any less caring.

 

To whom what and where I share my ADHD Diagnosis

I can’t speak for everyone, but in my case, all this public stigma surrounding ADHD is often internalized. I find it very difficult sometimes not to self-stigmatize. That’s why I only share my diagnosis if, 1) it seems like a natural step in a conversation or relationship, or 2) I believe there is an opportunity for me to educate the person or debunk some of their false presumptions regarding ADHD.

On that note, everyone has to decide for themselves to who and how they share their diagnosis. It’s a very personal and often sensitive subject that should not be dictated by anyone but yourself. I find it best to get to know people first and let them get to know me before I tell them. The label is still tainted by negative preconceived notions, and if it’s the first thing someone knows about me, I feel like it will color their entire perception of me.

It took some time, but I have finally come to realize that I am not my ADHD – my ADHD is a part of me. It is just another set of characteristics that make up my unique personality. At times, I’ve found that my ADHD actually works in my favor.

In starting this blog, I hope to highlight the common misconceptions about ADHD. I want to use my voice to provide a more intelligent representation of the disorder. It’s time we start to tear down some of the stigma surrounding ADHD. I want to educate those outside of my community and support those within it. But, most importantly, I want to set the record straight and let the world know that having ADHD does not make me a second rank citizen.

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