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ADHD Diagnostic Criteria Rewritten by People Who Don’t “Believe” in ADHD

Many medical professionals who diagnose ADHD ask for input from family, friends or teachers who know the person in question. The idea being that people have a biased view of themselves and having reports of potential ADHD symptoms from multiple sources can be helpful.

But what if those family, friends or teachers don’t “believe” in ADHD? On one hand, that might jeopardize their ability to report ADHD symptoms in an objective manner. On the other hand, a report saying you’re lazy, have many character flaws, and need to try harder to stop underachieving can be just as telling as one that says you struggle to pay attention.

ChecklistThis got me thinking: what if we had people who don’t “believe” in ADHD rewrite the diagnostic criteria altogether?

I’m guessing that in this scenario, the term inattentive symptoms would be replaced by laziness or character flaws. These symptoms might include things like:

  • Doesn’t try hard enough
  • Unmotivated
  • Poor work ethic
  • Doesn’t listen to other people
  • Irresponsible

What about hyperactive symptoms? I think these would become something like annoying behaviors, since these are the symptoms that tend to be most externally visible and therefore irritating to other people.

  • Won’t settle down
  • Won’t frickin’ sit still
  • Always doing rude things like interrupting people or making inappropriate comments
  • Doesn’t know how to be patient
  • Acts without thinking things through

My point here is that you can take any ADHD symptom and phrase it in a stigmatizing way to make it sound like a character flaw.

Going in the other direction, you can take any ADHD symptom that has been made to sound like a character flaw, remove the emotionally charged language, and use more scientific language to trace it back to an actual ADHD symptom.

This mental adjustment is one that people with ADHD often have to make when interacting with people who don’t have a good understanding of ADHD.

To put it another way: when people tell you that you can’t have ADHD because you just have such-and-such character flaws, you should listen to them. Not because they’re right, of course, but because if you know how to translate what they’re saying, they might actually be helpfully listing ADHD symptoms that they’ve observed in your life.

Image: Flickr/Penn State

ADHD Diagnostic Criteria Rewritten by People Who Don’t “Believe” in ADHD

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on psychology, ADHD and education. In addition to ADHD Millennial, he writes about psychology at Psych Central's AllPsych blog and about ADHD at He can be found on Twitter at @ADaptHD_blog

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2018). ADHD Diagnostic Criteria Rewritten by People Who Don’t “Believe” in ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Dec 2018
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