When you call ADHD a “fad,” you hurt people like me.
As a writer whose work lives online, I can open my inbox at any given moment and find a barrage of unsolicited feedback. As a writer with ADHD, much of that feedback pushes the idea that ADHD is a trend—that it’s made up, overdiagnosed, over-medicated, or something young people are using as an excuse for laziness or poor work ethic.
Fact check: If ADHD is a trend, it’s been around for an awfully long time
While ADHD wasn’t fully recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) until 1968 where it was first described as “Hyperkinetic Reaction of Childhood,” the condition had been observed long before then.
We’ve had some idea of ADHD’s existence for centuries. The first mentions of a disorder resembling it appear to be credited to Scottish physician Sir Alexander Crichton in 1798, in his groundbreaking work "On Attention and its Diseases." German Physician Heinrich Hoffmann followed in 1846 with his illustrated storybook about "Fidgety Phil."
Many clinicians regard the scientific inquiry into ADHD to have begun in 1902, led by British pediatrician Sir George Still, who studied the condition and described some of its hallmark features, including impulsivity and emotional dysregulation.
It was renamed attention deficit disorder (ADD) in 1980, and with it came the acknowledgment that hyperactivity is not always present—a groundbreaking distinction that allowed more people with ADD to be accurately diagnosed.
Following the distinction of hyperactivity, both clinicians and the public’s general understanding of the condition improved so much that, in the 1990s, ADHD diagnoses began to climb. This increased even more after the three subtypes of ADHD were distinguished in 1994. It’s taken clinicians decades to fully understand what they were observing.
Only in recent years have clinicians begun to move away from focusing on young boys and to be inclusive of adults, women, people of color, and more. This has led to a more recent resurgence of interest in ADHD. This has also radically expanded our understanding of this neurological difference.
Today, thanks to advances in science, we now understand there to be a strong genetic link for ADHD, and we continue to study the underlying causes, including lower levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in people with ADHD.
Conspiracy theorists will claim that ADHD was recently invented as a “trend” to medicate children in the ‘90s. But in actuality, stimulants have been in use since the ‘50s, and ADHD itself has been studied for well over a century.
It shouldn’t take a history lesson, though, to convince people that ADHD is real. There are adults living with ADHD who are evidence enough of the real impact ADHD has. And if we could exchange this “trend” for another one — bell bottom jeans, perhaps? — many of us would. It’s difficult to explain to someone that doesn’t live with this condition what it’s really like. On the surface, the diagnostic criteria can make ADHD seem so minor.
I think about the many times I almost dropped out of school, the painful intensity of my emotions, the inability to direct my focus where it’s needed, the uncontrolled urge to be in motion, the relentless anxiety, the constant misplacing of objects and careless mistakes, and the inability to summon motivation, despite how desperately I wanted to achieve my goals… and the collective weight of this hurts.
ADHD is a painful, frustrating experience of wanting to function like everyone else, but experiencing excruciating paralysis and overwhelm when we try to. It’s hitting the same wall over and over again, and not understanding why. Something is always there, blocking your path, no matter which way you turn. The truth is, when we dismiss ADHD as a “fad” or a “trend,” we contribute to the very real pain and suffering that people like us go through.
ADHD is a neurological difference — one we can see and observe, and have studied for well over a century — and to suggest otherwise is gaslighting. It implies that our struggles are fake or contrived, and that we can’t trust what we know to be true about ourselves. And worse, it spreads misinformation that keeps others from getting the help that they need.
Before you rush to judgment about someone’s diagnosis, reflect inward. Where is that discomfort coming from? Can you reasonably call yourself an expert on the topic? Does your expertise supersede a person’s lived experience? Are you the most qualified person to speak to this issue? Maybe, just maybe, if you don’t have anything helpful to say? It's best not to say anything at all.
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