Myth: ADHD is Just an Excuse for Bad Behavior

Health Writer

According to some critics of ADHD, parents use ADHD as an excuse for bad behavior. One such sentiment is expressed in this way, "We suggest that in the current atmosphere of acceptance and explanation, it is far easier to feel good about one's negative behaviors than it was 50 years ago. Doing a "bad" thing implies responsibility and guilt, as well as the need for some punitive actions on the part of one's social peers. But having a "dysfunction" carries no such social stigma." (Smelter at al., 429)

This suggests that people would rather have ADHD and will seek out a diagnosis in order to expel both responsibility and guilt from their lives. In my experiences, I have seen the opposite to be true. For parents of children with ADHD, discipline was often carried out. For many parents, a physician was consulted in part because they felt they were punishing their child with ADHD way too often. For adults with ADHD, guilt is lived with every day. They feel a great deal of responsibility for all they have not accomplished, for all the disappointments in their lives, for the disappointments they have created in their loved ones and for their perceived failures.

Having ADHD can explain many behaviors. When my son was four years old, he pushed the "red" stop button at the top of the escalator in the mall. I was mortified. Everyone on the escalator stopped suddenly and they all turned around and stared at my son and I, standing there at the top. In all my years of going to the mall, I have never seen another child do this. Was his impulsiveness to blame?

ADHD certainly could explain this behavior, but should it be used as an excuse?

The difference is how parents react to the situation. Was I to stand there, throw up my hands and say, "He has ADHD, what do you want me to do?" then I would be using it as an excuse. Instead, I apologized and went to customer service to explain what had happened. Instead, I chose to show my son what is the correct thing to do when you have made an error. Instead, I accepted the explanation of ADHD but also took responsibility.

Counselors, doctors, educators, coaches and other medical professionals working with individuals with ADHD will discuss taking responsibility. They will teach that ADHD is a challenge. They will explain that medication can help to relieve or minimize certain symptoms of ADHD but they will emphasize the need to take responsibility for one's actions.

The federal government allows for accommodations for both children and adults with ADHD, in school and at work, based on their level of disability. These accommodations are mandated not to excuse behavior of those disabled but to allow them to compete on a level playing field.

Suggested Reading:

Strategies for Parenting Children with ADHD

Strategies for Parenting Children with ADD


The Consequences, Diagnosing, Not a Discipline Problem, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

Richard W.Smelter, Bradley W. Rasch, Jan Fleming, Pat Nazos, and Sharon Barankowski (February 1996) Is Attention Deficit Disorder Becoming a Desired Diagnosis?, Phi Delta Kappan, Volume 77, Issue 6 pp.429-433

Myths About ADD/ADHD, Attention Deficit Disorder Association