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When Someone Doesn’t Want to Believe You Have ADHD

When trying to explain our condition to others, people with ADHD frequently run into problems like a lack of awareness over what ADHD is or general stigma surrounding mental health conditions like ADHD. But a more particular problem is encountering people who specifically don’t want to believe that we have ADHD.

This goes beyond simple ignorance or mental health illiteracy. In some cases, people are motivated to believe that we don’t have ADHD and to find evidence confirming their idea that we can’t have ADHD.

A classic example is parents and other family members. For these people, a diagnosis of a condition like ADHD raises big, uncomfortable, uncertain questions. Sometimes people decide that it’s easier to believe that the diagnosis is incorrect than to confront those questions and their implications.

Head in SandAnother example is anyone who has already decided that you’re lazy and irresponsible, and that your ADHD-related behaviors indicate character flaws. For someone in this position, it’s easier to look for evidence that disproves your diagnosis than to shift their perspective.

And the thing about people who are actively motivated to believe you don’t have ADHD is that they will look for evidence. They might make points such as:

  1. “But you can concentrate for hours on playing video games!”
  2. “You have a college degree, you can’t possibly have ADHD!”
  3. “You don’t seem hyperactive.”

Of course, all these points are based on misunderstandings of what ADHD is:

  1. People with ADHD have dysregulated attention, not a simple lack of attention, so they can pay attention for extended periods of time when engaged in certain activities they enjoy (sometimes more so than people without ADHD).
  2. Not every single person with ADHD is completely incapable of obtaining a degree. There are a variety of factors other than ADHD that influence someone’s academic success, including how much support they have, whether they have skills that help them compensate for their symptoms, how much money they have, and plain old fashioned luck.
  3. Not everyone with ADHD has hyperactive symptoms, and those who do aren’t necessarily running up and down the walls in an obvious way.

To the person who makes these points though, they’re evidence to support the predetermined conclusion that you don’t have ADHD.

There are basically two things you can do when dealing with someone who actively wants to believe that you don’t have ADHD. First, you can provide them resources to read up on what ADHD is and explain the symptoms to them, which might dispel some of their ideas about why you don’t act the way they expect someone with ADHD to act.

Ultimately, though, you have to life your life and take charge of doing whatever’s best for your mental health, even if some people around you prefer to stick their heads in the sand.

Image: Flickr/Peter

When Someone Doesn’t Want to Believe You Have ADHD

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2018). When Someone Doesn’t Want to Believe You Have ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 17, 2019, from


Last updated: 6 Nov 2018
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