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Being a Stereotypical ADHDer

A reason you sometimes hear for misdiagnosis is that someone has ADHD but they don’t fit the stereotype of ADHD.

As in: I couldn’t ever pay attention in class, but I wasn’t hyperactive so no one ever considered ADHD.

Or: my ADHD symptoms were missed because people think ADHD is for little boys, and I’m a 35-year-old woman.

Or: I was told that I was too successful to have ADHD because I have a college degree.

And so on. I won’t keep going with these examples because there are an endless number of ways that someone might not be “the stereotypical ADHDer.”

HyperactiveWhich raises an interesting question: who is the stereotypical ADHDer?

The most precise thing to say is that no one, exactly, is the stereotypical ADHDer. But generally, the image people seem to have from the media is a little boy who can’t sit still and is completely overwhelming for parents and teachers.

Without a doubt, there are ADHDers who do meet that stereotype. There are plenty of children with ADHD, many of whom are boys, and many of whom do indeed have significant hyperactive symptoms. Those children really do present unique challenges for parents and teachers.

So here’s a question: if you do meet the ADHD stereotype, does that mean you’ll get diagnosed?

Unfortunately, the answer is not necessarily! Even if you have ADHD and you live up to every common stereotype about ADHD, it’s very easy for other people to still chalk your symptoms up to “bad behavior” or “poor parenting” or “laziness.”

To put it another way, not being a stereotypical ADHDer is sometimes given as a reason for not getting a diagnosis, but that doesn’t mean that you will get diagnosed if you are a stereotypical ADHDer.

There’s a more general issue here, of course: because stereotypes aren’t based on anything concrete, different people have different ideas of a “stereotypical ADHDer.”

For example, my idea of a stereotypical ADHDer looks different than the common idea put forward in the media.

When I think of my ADHD stereotype, I think of someone who struggled through school without a diagnosis, who underachieved and had never understood why they had a hard time with things other people took for granted, and who finally stumbled into the revelation of a diagnosis at some point in adulthood.

But that’s still just a stereotype – it’s colored by the fact that I’ve heard that story many times from other people, including regularly from readers of this blog, and by the fact that my own story looks something like that. It’s limited because it’s a generalization of people I’ve encountered, and it doesn’t represent the experiences of all ADHDers. I’d like to think it’s a little more informed than the stereotype of people with ADHD as “hyperactive little boys,” but it’s subjective in the way that all stereotypes are.

Of course, the solution here is to remind ourselves that there’s no single picture of what someone with ADHD looks like, or how their life unfolds. Being a “stereotypical ADHDer” or a “textbook case of ADHD” doesn’t count for much because one persons’s stereotype is different from another’s, and it’s certainly no guarantee you’ll get a diagnosis!

Image: Flickr/Maya ALESHKEVICH

Being a Stereotypical ADHDer

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. (2020). Being a Stereotypical ADHDer. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 22 Apr 2020
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