How we talk about ADHD: What is the terminology we're using and why?

When we talk about ADHD, we follow the advice of the Australian ADHD Professionals Association (AADPA). In this post, we explain what that means. You might also find these tips useful if you want to talk about ADHD with others.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a long-lasting condition that causes symptoms that interfere with multiple areas of your life. Some people with ADHD have problems controlling attention, others have problems with hyperactivity and impulsivity, and some have a combination of the above. Diagnostic criteria stipulate that ADHD lasts at least six months; in reality, it usually lasts for years, and is often life-long.

You can read more about ADHD here.

ADD stands for attention deficit disorder. Though it was used in the past, it is now considered outdated. Even if someone has a purely inattentive presentation of ADHD (with no hyperactivity), all people with ADHD are nowadays referred to as having ADHD.

Neurodiversity can refer to the range of different ways that brains can develop and function. People often refer to ADHD and autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) as neurodiverse conditions. On the other hand, people who do not have any neurodevelopmental condition are sometimes referred to as “neurotypical.”

Throughout our resources and our conversations with people, we aim to follow the AADPA’s advice on talking about ADHD. Below, we’ve grouped their advice into a few key tips. Please feel free to make the most of these tips when talking to others about ADHD.

Tip #1: Educate people about ADHD and correct inaccurate, negative perceptions about it.

At Call to Mind, this is how we do this:

1. Communicate information in a way that is accurate and clear, and in a way that (we hope) fosters hope and optimism.
2. Work to combat inaccurate negative expectations and stereotypes that some people have about ADHD.

Correct misunderstandings about how ADHD presents. There are three different ways that ADHD can present, or show up in people’s lives – an inattentive presentation, a hyperactive/impulsive presentation, and a mixed presentation.

Tip #2: Acknowledge the challenges associated with ADHD.

At Call to Mind, this is how we do this:

1. Help people to see that they should not trivialise or dismiss ADHD: people with ADHD have brains that developed differently to people without ADHD, and this makes them different, but ADHD does not make someone “lazy” or “dumb.” People without ADHD should recognise that the distraction and impulsivity experienced by people with ADHD is a very different experience to what it feels like for a neurotypical person to get distracted or to feel an impulse. 
2. Recognise that ADHD is a disability. It can be harmful to assume that “ADHD is always a superpower,” because this minimises the challenges that ADHD can present to people who live with it. Having said this, we also emphasise the fact that, with evidence-based treatment, along with appropriate support and accommodations, people with ADHD can thrive and live a full and rewarding life.
3. Recognise that ADHD is often a life-long disorder (some children do not continue to have symptoms into their adolescence, but many people continue to have symptoms as adults). 
4. Acknowledge that ADHD is associated with impulsive behaviours, while also recognising that it is not an excuse for (and should not be used to try to explain) unethical or immoral behaviour. 

Tip #3: Talk about medications accurately.

This is how we do this:

Explain how and why medications work in straightforward language.

Use correct terminology for medications (rather than slang).

Promote the use of evidence-based non-medication-based treatments, either alone or in conjunction with medication.

Tip #4: Talk about ADHD and people with ADHD respectfully.

At Call to Mind, this is how we do this:

Instead of saying someone “suffers” from ADHD or viewing it exclusively as a “treatable” “deficit,” recognise that people with ADHD are people with different brains, who have the capacity to thrive with the appropriate treatments and supports.

Instead of using negative labels for behaviours associated with ADHD, use non-judgemental descriptive terms. 

Instead of seeing people with ADHD as people to manage, we see them as people who can thrive and lead rich, fulfilling lives, especially if they have appropriate supports in place.