ADHD is a TERRIBLE name for ADHD!

I don't know too much about The Holderness Family, but from what I have seen of them, it's clear that they are strong ADHD advocates who do a great job of presenting the experience of family life with ADHD, with the perfect balance of humour and genuine educational value.


This ADHD song that they released during the pandemic was a big hit in our house!


In their latest video they raise a specific issue about ADHD that has bugged me for years, namely that ADHD is a terrible name for ADHD!



The name Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (first introduced in 1980) is deeply misleading and may well be one of the primary reasons why the condition is so widely misunderstood. I see problems with every single part of the name...


"Attention Deficit" - This creates the assumption that we have a general inability to focus or pay attention to something for long periods of time, but we now know that this is simply not the case. People with ADHD are driven by their interests. When we are interested in something, we can not only focus on it intently for long periods, often the biggest challenge is in getting us to stop focusing on it!


When we feel feel passionate about something, it can dominate our attention for several hours, often to the detriment of anything else that we had intended to be doing in that time. This phenomenon is often referred to as 'hyperfocus' and it makes a mockery of the idea that we have a global attention deficit.


"Hyperactivity" - Most people think that this refers to physical hyperactivity, with the clichéd characterisation of kids 'bouncing off the walls', but many people with ADHD simply don't display this kind of hyperactivity at all.


However, there is a lesser-known type of hyperactivity that is extremely common among ADHDers - Brain Hyperactivity. Our brains can be hyperactive in a number of ways, such as having thoughts that jump from topic to topic, overthinking and the need for constant mental stimulation. This is a symptom that I have found to be shared universally among my ADHD coaching clients and yet the majority of them had no idea that it could be a symptom of their ADHD. Many even proudly declared that they have 'ADD without the H', until I helped them to understand their brand of hyperactivity.


So the two symptoms that are mentioned in the name are inaccurate or, at best, misrepresented. Perhaps an even bigger problem is the many symptoms of ADHD that are not mentioned in the name at all! We now know of dozens of ways that ADHD affects people beyond the realms of inattention and hyperactivity, but this is far too wide a topic to try to tackle in one blog post so, for now, let's get back to the problems with the name, cos we're not finished just yet...


"Disorder" - Yes, technically the condition is a disorder in that it is understood to be linked to the under-development of certain areas of the brain. However, I share the Holderness view that the word disorder feels too negative.


People with ADHD have the same limitless potential as anyone else and there are many well documented examples of people with ADHD who have reached the very top of their chosen fields. So why all the negativity?


It's well known that situational and environmental factors can have a great impact on the extent to which an individual is impaired by their ADHD. I firmly believe that ADHD brains are not worse, or better, than non-ADHD brains, they just work differently, and that the reason why so many children with ADHD suffer so much in school is that the traditional mainstream education system, which has barely changed in centuries, was simply not designed with ADHD brains in mind.


Perhaps if educators viewed the second D in ADHD is standing for 'Difference', rather than 'Disorder', they would better understand the desperate need for differentiated methods of teaching and behaviour management to be brought into the classroom, to enable all children to have a more equal chance at succeeding.


So what should it be called?


The idea of changing the name of ADHD is not actually a new one. It's a cause supported by the very highest authorities in the ADHD world. Dr Russell Barkley has been known to prefer the term 'Executive Function Disorder', while Dr Ned Hallowell has recently suggested the name 'VAST' - 'Variable Attention Stimulus Trait'. He gives an explanation of the name in this short podcast episode. What do you think of these suggestions? Would they help to bring about a much needed increase in understanding of the condition? Do you have any better suggestions? If so, let's hear them!


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 ADHD Coach, Speaker & Consultant