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"Could you not" 6 Things not to say to someone with ADHD

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René Brooks shares a few phrases that can do more harm than good when talking to folks with ADHD.

There’s an old saying, “It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it."

This is some sage advice that more people could stand to follow, if you ask me. There seems to be a surplus of people in the world who believe that their opinions are really important.

They believe that they are entitled to share them with you — whether or not you asked for them and especially if you live with a chronic illness. At best, these opinions are well-intentioned but maybe a bit misguided. At worst, they’re hurtful and uninformed.

We may not be able to do much about a person’s bad intentions, but what about the people who mean well but sometimes miss the mark with their comments?

For those fine folks, we can spend some time to let them know when they’ve said something that could be painful for the receiver.

People I genuinely care for have said some incredibly hurtful things over the years with regard to my ADHD — sometimes carelessly and other times on purpose, unfortunately. Nobody wants to be made to feel low, especially by the people they love. If you love someone with ADHD, check out a few things you might want to avoid saying — even when you mean well.

“Don’t use your ADHD as an excuse for _______”

Believe it or not, there’s a difference between giving an explanation and giving an excuse.

Once I found myself in a situation where I showed up late because I had forgotten my wallet. Although I was embarrassed, I had to explain that my ADHD contributed to the series of events that led to me leaving my wallet behind.

It wasn’t an excuse and I wasn’t trying to avoid accountability. I merely wanted the people waiting on me to understand that it wasn’t intentional lateness or a lack of caring that made it happen.

“You don’t have ADHD, you’re just (insert adjective here)”

People seem to be under the (false) impression that you can just walk into a doctor’s office, tell them that you forget stuff and get distracted easily, and BAM! You must have ADHD. Nothing could be further from the truth.

When I sat down with the ADHD specialist who eventually diagnosed me, he took his time evaluating me, my symptoms, and my medical history.

I answered questions about my present life, my childhood, my life as a student, and the challenges that I faced in my current work life. Believe it or not, the evaluation and diagnosis process for adult ADHD isn’t easy.

Don’t disrespect your loved one and the professionals they work with by suggesting you know better than all of them.

“Don’t be lazy”

In an era where the word “triggered” may be a bit over (or improperly) used, I’m here to tell you that the word “lazy” is a trigger for me. As a child, even when I tried my best to concentrate in class, I really struggled in the subjects that didn’t automatically grab my interest.

I had a really hard time doing homework and turning it in. My locker was always a disorganized mess. And all along I was told that I had the potential — I just wasn’t using it. Everyone thought I was just lazy and could do better. No one believed that I really was trying my best.

People with ADHD aren’t being lazy, even if that’s how it may seem to neurotypical folks.

“Everyone has trouble paying attention sometimes”

It’s true: Everyone does have trouble paying attention sometimes. It’s part of the human experience.

But that doesn’t negate the serious impact that ADHD can have on a person – or that staying focused is the only challenge we face. It’s an oversimplification of the issue, and it does nothing to help your friend or loved one with ADHD.

Besides difficulty with paying attention, people with ADHD also deal with other executive function issues such as organizing and planning, regulating emotions, and self-control. That’s a lot more than just having trouble paying attention.

“You need to try harder”

Telling someone who has a disorder that they need to “try harder” to remember things or “try harder” to pay attention implies that they’re not doing everything that they can to try and manage their symptoms.

I do everything I can to stay on top of my ADHD symptoms. Guess what? Sometimes, it’s still not enough. Some things are just not within my power to manage. It’s hurtful and demoralizing when others believe that your struggles are due to a lack of trying.

The takeaway

A little sensitivity goes a long way. The damage that can be done by saying the wrong thing to someone who’s already doing the best they can is serious — but not irreparable.

Empathy and respect can go a long way.

For more information on how to manage ADHD, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team. 


Diagnosing ADHD in Adults. (n.d.). https://chadd.org/for-adults/diagnosis-of-adhd-in-adults/

The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen. 

APR 2023 NPS-ALL-NP-00911

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