Dr. Umesh Jain is now exclusively responsible for TotallyADD.com and its content

The Danger of People Who Dismiss Your ADHD

boy on highway
Do people who deny ADHD cause any real problems?

Let’s talk about people who deny or dismiss ADHD. Their hostility can be surprising.  Their ignorance can be dangerous. This stigma that still taints many people’s view of ADHD causes needless suffering. And I’m not talking about the universal dread that everyone experiences when they consider getting diagnosed

Who wants to know that ‘there might be something wrong with my brain.’  That is a worry I understand.  (Of course I quickly learned there’s nothing wrong with my brain, it’s just not great at the routine, boring, repetitive obligations of modern life.  And really good at other things.)

The stigma I’m referring is the hostility faced by folks like you (and I) who have received a reliable diagnosis, have created a treatment plan, are moving forward…  Until we are confronted by what I call, ‘A Closed Mind & Mouth Wide Open.’

The Know-It-All Who Knows Nothing

Unless you were diagnosed this week and haven’t told a soul, you’ve probably met people who proudly proclaim, ‘I don’t believe in ADHD!’ To them it is a joke.  A scam.  And you’re a poor sucker for buying into it.

Some claim, ‘I know a guy who was diagnosed and was medicated into a zombie, until the parents cut out gluten and the guy went on to win 5 Nobel Prizes. Seriously.’  

Or they’ve read about a ‘healer’ who cures ADHD online with magic hula-hoops, pictures of trees, and chanting Miley Cyrus songs backwards.  When pressed they can’t recall the details, ‘Google it! This woman is amazing!’

I know this hostility and dismissal is an ongoing problem because our videos Facing The World about how to defend your diagnosis, and Disclosure: To Tell or Not To Tell, are among the most popular downloads in our shop.

The funny thing is, these people often mean well.  It took me decades to get that people always think they are doing the right thing.  And my opinion, or common courtesy, or even scientific facts didn’t matter. The ends justify the means. ‘I don’t mean to be rude or cruel, but you are…’

We all do this. It’s human nature

Even when we know what they are saying or doing isn’t exactly honorable, perhaps even downright nasty or illegal, we find a way to justify it.

‘Everyone else is doing it.’

‘I need to pass this course.’

‘My wife doesn’t understand me.’

But many people who have dismissed or minimized my ADHD thought they were being ‘helpful and kind.’  They were genuinely concerned.

‘I’m just worried that you’re using this ADHD stuff as an excuse.’

‘You’re fine, Rick.  You’re just creative.  You’ve been on national television for heaven’s sake.’

Another common ‘explanation’ you may hear goes something like, ‘The whole family is like this. We’re Spanish. We can’t help it.’  In fact, comments like that were what drove me to make the documentary, ADD & Loving It?! Okay, no one accused me of being Spanish.

But here’s the revelation that has been liberating.  Almost as much as finally getting diagnosed was.  It’s something I’d heard a hundred times, but never fully considered.  You’ve probably heard it yourself.  It’s deceptively simple.

‘People are doing the best they know how.  When they know better, they do better.’

It kind of sounds like an excuse.  Or it did to me.  Now I think it explains 90% of what baffles me about people. (Including about myself!)

‘What were they thinking?’

This is actually crucial to understand: Everyone is doing what they believe or feel is the right thing. Or, the least awful thing.  As in, ‘Hey, I don’t want to cheat people, but if I tell buyers about the problem with the sewage, no one will ever buy our house.’

Until I understood that most people are doing what they think is the right thing, I was constantly shocked by people’s denial or dismissal, left speechless, thinking, ‘I can’t believe they said that about my ADHD?’ 

Gradually I realized they believe what they have heard about ADHD is the truth.  And you need to hear this.  Because they know better.

They may be snarky about it, or sound superior and dismissive, but they may ascribe to the theory that, ‘Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.’  Or, ‘I’m saying this for your own good.’   That statement usually precedes something appalling that is not good for anyone!

And yet, I will say it again, ‘What if everyone is doing what they feel is right and saying what they believe is the truth?’ You don’t have to like this idea.  I can’t imagine you would.  I didn’t, for a long time.  But it explains a lot.


An Inconvenient & Confronting Truth

A father who thinks kids need a good smack to learn respect will smack his kids.  Makes total sense. Based on what he believes and how he was raised.

If you dare to offer an alternate opinion on the efficacy of corporal punishment, that father may snort, ‘What do you know?  Do you have kids?  You want the kid to be a sissy?  It’s a tough world.’

You mention that a number of studies have shown that hitting actually… ‘Scientific study?  What crap! They can make studies say anything you want.  Besides, I know what I know.’

We are all doing the best we know how, based on what we know. 

As in, what we know right now. 

If a colleague or grandparent believes ADHD is bogus, or has heard medications turn people into drones… it makes total sense that they say things that you find hurtful, cruel, or pig-ignorant.

The real danger, and the only one that matters, is that you may allow those comments and ‘opinions’ to derail your progress.

A friend’s casual, ‘Do you really need medication?  You’re just creative,’ was enough to stop a young comedian I know from continuing with a treatment plan that he told me was ACTUALLY WORKING!

He knew it was stupid.  He said so.  But he couldn’t bring himself to get back on track.

Here’s The Trap We All Fall Into…

People will always believe nonsense.  The problem is that in this increasingly polarized world they are loud and proud, adamant that, ‘It’s true!’

And if they know ‘the truth,’ then whatever you believe is obviously false.  Making you a deluded, foolish, stubborn moron.  (To them.) 

And if you get emotional and argue to the contrary, that just confirms to them that you are pathetic.

If someone’s right, then everyone else must be wrong?  Hmm.  Even if that were true, well, who can be right all the time?  Not me.  Or anyone I know.  If it’s True or False, at best you’ve got a 50-50 chance of being right.

At school, even in my best subjects, I never got more than 90% of the right answers.  And that was basic stuff.  That stuff actually was either True or False.

Life is not like that.  Life’s way more complex.

Life is 50 Shade of Gray…

… and a few thousand shades of all the other colors.

Remember, the brain is the most complex thing in the universe.  ADHD adds a whole new level of uncertainty.  Call it 50 Shades of Grey Matter.

The odds that I’m going to be 100% right about everything? … Not a chance. 

I only have to look at my past for have ample proof that I haven’t been right about a lot of things I believed or chose or did. 

My batting average is probably closer to 10%.

So look, you have to protect yourself.  You have to defend your diagnosis.  Don’t spend time trying to educate people who are not interested in learning something new.

As I said in my previous Blog, you are not the ‘Idiot Whisperer.’

At the same time, don’t judge people harshly. 

Just because they don’t know what ADHD is, but are saying things that are potentially destructive to other people’s progress, doesn’t make them evil, or stupid, or an a$$h0le.

It does make them dangerous…  Only if you buy into what they are saying.

I Never Want to Speak to Them Again!

Look you don’t have to end friendships if someone says something that’s uninformed.  But in some cases you may have to cut them loose. 

Looking back, fifteen years on, I can see that the people who were truly rude to me about my ADHD had their own agenda.  Their own baggage.  Some of these friends are no longer in my life, or contact is minimal.

But many other friends and family members who were unsure but had my best interests at heart are with me still. 

They came around as they saw the way my life changed with a good treatment plan.  One of them even married me.

One last suggestion: I’ve found the best way to deal with people who spew nonsense about ADHD, is prevention.

Don’t disclose to strangers.  Be very careful who you tell. If it comes up, change the subject. 

Or if they insist, act impressed and ask them to send you, ‘the name of that guy in Nebraska who is curing ADHD using Yo-Yos and Xanthan Gum.  He sounds interesting.’

I go into more detail in Defending Your Diagnosis.   What matters is you, your progress, and your success.

Stigma? Dismissal? Cruel comments? Don’t let others undermine you. Defend your diagnosis with Facing The World

Disclosure: Who needs to know that you or your loved one has ADHD? Disclosing is dangerous. Understand the risks. And what to say in: ‘To Tell or Not To Tell’



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  1. chewiesolo2187 February 14, 2017 at 11:36 pm

    I’m a 15 year old Indian female teenager. As a kid, I was a gifted child, and no one really noticed I had ADHD. I hardly studied, unless forced with a parent, but was always the brightest in class, because it was something I was good at. Teachers commented on how lost I tended to be, joking about how I was the “lost professor” and often commented on my general disorganization, which tended to be horrendous. I was always losing things, always daydreaming. My desk was the most cluttered. Since I did exceptionally well at school, despite not working all that hard, I never really had to worry. When I hit 7th grade, I was suddenly introduced to organization being a part of succeeding at school. (I had moved schools as I had moved back to India) There was suddenly a necessity to study and revise, or to pay attention in classes that were monotonous and boring. I began scraping by with terrible grades. I began squirming in my seat, fidgeting, pacing whenever I could. I turned into Class Clown instead, making jokes to pass time and to act as a cover for the sudden reversal in roles. Teachers commented on my organization with disdain, having no idea what to do with me. The stereotypical child with immense potential who refused to live up to it and wasn’t working hard enough become a catchphrase for me. I did homework the day before it was due, if I did it at all. I was notorious for hardly ever handing in homework, which ended up usually being graded. I couldn’t (can’t) seem to work unless it was under pressure. Even though I desperately wanted to be the same, to succeed, I could barely bring myself to work on the tasks provided. I end up opening books for my exams a month prior, only to not be able to focus, and only working the morning of the exam. Teachers kept me in advanced classes because of my yo-yo grades, which seemed to be all or nothing. The occasional average scores are usually just me figuring out the concept during the paper itself. I baffled math teachers by scoring extremely well where it came to simply finding patterns, and derive formulas, where other children who had mathematical conceptual understanding lost out, but failing miserably in areas requiring study. In December, I went to see a psychologist, who agreed with the fact that it was possible ADHD, along with anxiety. Another psychiatrist I went to didn’t think it was ADHD, deciding I was probably depressed and/or had low self worth. He did, however, put me on mild medication. It helped a little, but barely. I then stopped taking it, as the effect started wearing out and I didn’t particularly want to stay on medication. When I talked to a close teacher, she dismissed it by saying “every one has ADHD at some point, don’t worry.” When I told a close friend, she said “Yeah, she’s right, you know.” It hurt. Because I just realized, what if I’m telling close friends that I have ADHD only for it to look like some kind of excuse? Worse, what if it’s just that I’m lazy and don’t actually have ADHD, even if it exists? For people who do have ADHD, do my symptoms really resemble ADHD? My mother admits she also has a number of symptoms, though milder than mine, and since it’s genetic, that also made me a bit suspicious. I’m just really confused.

  2. richardpeter February 15, 2017 at 8:28 pm

    Thanks Rick for the first hand look at the problems you faced. Unfortunately for me it is my wife who has not embraced my ADD. I haven’t been oficially diagnosed yet but am seeing a psychologist and my Family doctor for initial help. The ADD explains many of the behaviours I exhibit that my wife hates. When I try to discuss what I see or read about ADD with her she says “ADD doesn’t cause that, you do”. She has been very hurt by some of the things that have gone on in our 21 years together and wants me to accept responsibility for it. She thinks I am using ADD as an excuse and in a way I am. Until I can learn how to mitigate the effects of my condition it is still in control. I’m hoping that medication, education, CBT, and coaching will improve my situation. I hope my wife will come around when I begin my treatment. At 53 I can only hope that I have not discovered my ADD too late to save my marriage.

  3. cubefulness2 February 16, 2017 at 4:08 pm

    Until I understood that most people are doing what they think is the right thing, I was constantly shocked by people’s denial or dismissal, left speechless, thinking, ‘I can’t believe they said that about my ADHD?’ Gradually I realized they believe what they have heard about ADHD is the truth. And you need to hear this. Because they know better.
    I am really a fan of this quote. I have met a few people who don’t believe in the legitimacy of the ADHD diagnosis. fortunately, the people I met were fairly open minded about the topic. They were at least willing to have a discussion about the topic and even when we finished they still didn’t believe it was a legit disorder. It was ok though. They were good hearted about it and actually asked questions to genuinely see where I was coming from as I did the same for them.

  4. annglaister February 22, 2017 at 7:42 am

    arrrgh….I have just come back from seeing my GP here in merry olde England …I took with me all the relevant information, explained that I had taken the test from the Royal college London and my results were off the wall …she asked what exactly it was that I thought that I had …”I have ADD, I’m certain and I would really, really, like some help”…she laughed in my face …you can’t have ADD, not at your age ..now stop wasting my time, the NHS can’t fund someone of your age …I feel devastated …there’s no help…nothing …….what can someone do in the UK to get help?

  5. driddles February 23, 2017 at 9:56 am

    How incredibly frustrating that must be for you! Does the NHS give you the option of switching GPs or asking for a second opinion? Where I live in Canada my doctor would not give me the test for ADD because they were far to busy, but they did give me a referral to another doctor who was more than happy to give me the test. As it turned out I did not have ADD, but I did have a lot of similarities of someone with ADD. The information helped me develop my own treatment plan.
    If seeking another doctor is not an option both ‘ADD & Loving It?!’ and ‘ADD & Mastering It!’ are downloadable videos in theTotallyADD shop that can help you.

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