Myth #3: ADHD Symptoms are Simply Human Behaviors

ADHD Myth 3 ADHD Symptoms Are Just Human Behaviors. Gina Pera's ADHD Roller Coaster Blog

Taken singly, ADHD symptoms do resemble typical human behaviors—because they are. But there’s nothing “simple” about it.

“ADHD is a matter of severity, an exaggeration of normal human behaviors,” explains physician, author, and ADHD expert Patricia Quinn, MD.

Furthermore, you can have a little ADHD or a lot—or be somewhere in the middle.

Is it also true that, as we often hear, “Everyone has a little ADHD”? No.

A person might struggle around some of ADHD’s symptoms (that is, human traits). But without struggling with a certain number of traits—to the point of creating impairment in life—that person does not have ADHD.

University of Pennsylvania psychologist J. Russell Ramsay, Phd, debunks the “Everyone Has It” myth this way:

Saying that everyone who has some trouble with organization and procrastination has ADHD stands akin to claiming that because everyone periodically feels sad or nervous, that everyone has depression or anxiety disorders.

More ADHD Myths:

ADHD Myth 4 Modern Life Makes Us All ADHD’ish

Your comments welcome.

—Gina Pera



18 thoughts on “Myth #3: ADHD Symptoms are Simply Human Behaviors”

  1. Wow, what a relief this post is. I am loving this site soo much. Thank you for all of this.
    It was actually the Madderall article that really gave me a guide once i realized what was going on with me and went to the doc to ask for screening/treatment. My doc followed everything you mentioned. So i found that to back up your insight.
    I had already tried Ritalin tho (as it turns out) and it didn’t produce enough result for me. The docter wanted me to try adderall first before trying Vyvanse. Because it wears off so fast. But i can’t afford Vyvanse without insurance so i am still on the madderall. Lol. If i avoid caffeine (and hypoglycemia lol) there’s no emotional issues for me. But i do know that if i don’t sleep well for a night or two there will be emotional issues. And that’s just always been me. The treatment unfortunately won’t fix that part. It takes good sleep to get me back to myself. I’m giving all this for reference in hopes to help anyone.
    Just like this site has for me 🙂 .
    I have no issues with my medication. I had to cut sodium but not everyone does. The only “issues” i have is not being medicated more hours a day. Lol. Like 14 to 16 vs only 12. And maybe that i peak at 3 hours. So that its not a steady experience. Altho that’s not a con itself, it is inconvenient at my current work. But i don’t know yet what pro’s and con’s time release medicine would give me as i haven’t yet tried Vyvanse.
    Thank you again for this reference site and all of the efforts involved. It is helping!

    1. Dear MJ,

      I so appreciate your taking the time to write that comment.

      As you might have guessed, this is a passion of mine: Helping people with ADHD receive the help they deserve.

      You know, most of the brand manufacturers have pretty generous assistance programs.

      I encourage you to contact Shire Cares and see if you qualify. They are very helpful over the phone, last I checked.

      It might not be that you like Vyvanse after all. But at least you can try. There are several other new stimulant products…Evekeo, Aptensio (where do they get these names? lol). And they have similar programs.

      For information about Shire Cares benefits and eligibility, please call 1-888-CARES-55 (1-888-227-3755), or email

      Shire Cares is available from Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 8 PM Eastern Time, except holidays.

      Thanks again,

  2. Nise Hammeken

    Hey Gina.
    I have recently discovered your blog. I like it a lot. I also have many reasons to believe I have Adult ADD, but I will not be able to confirm that until march. Until then I am reading about it and applying other strategies as much as I can.
    I have a question about this article. You see, the thing is, when I was little I was never diagnosed with ADD because although I was a little mess and socially weird I never had problems with making friends and getting good grades. But as soon as high school came in problems started. I had to quit International Baccalaureate and get my high school diploma via a bad high school. I then started studying engineering but hardly ever advanced in the core subjects and after a year and a half I quit again. Now I am studying music and psychology at the same time. i am doing barely fine with psychology but not as good as I know I can and barely passing music. Four years and a half after the problems started i am finally coming to the conclusion that I might have ADD and that proper treatment would help me accomplish my goals.

    But there is one thing that concerns me. My mother is an expert of mental health. She is a Psychoanalyst, family therapist, and educator, she runs a clinic for children with learning disorders. Yet she never took me for proper ADD treatment. She now says that she didn’t because she saw I didn’t need it because I was functional. Does this mean that I was not ADD until high school because I was not impaired, and now I am (well, you know in case the diagnosis confirms my suspicions)? Is this possible? Can someone not have ADD and then have it? Or is it like, I had it, but, it became worse with age, or more difficult to cope with through bigger, more adult tasks and responsibilities?

    By the way, a little more info on my suspicions. I am a 22 year old female. I started reading a book called “Driven to Distraction” by Hallowell and Ratey. I related so much to some of the cases they write about and I think I have 20 out of 20 symptoms that are published in that book as a criteria for ADD diagnosis. And I have these symptoms constantly and strongly. These criteria symptoms or whatever are like brief descriptions of all the behaviors that together have been keeping me from meeting my goals, even though I’ve been trying to stop them since high school! That´s why I strongly believe I have it.

    Well I hope my message is not too overwhelming and disorganized. I hope that it is rather a good contribution, and I hope you can help me answering my questions. I know that discovering this blog will help me in my journey and I thank you a lot for it.

    So yeah. Thanks.

    1. Dear Nise,

      I am so grateful that you have written your comment.

      Nothing makes me happier than helping someone to recognize that unrecognized ADHD might be holding them back in life—because they can actually do something about it.

      ADHD is very much a “good news” diagnosis, in my opinion. Because it provides the missing key to open that pesky lock.

      So, to answer your questions:

      1. Some people with ADHD will do well in childhood, particularly if they are smarter-than-average and enjoy a structured school/home life. But at some point, they hit that “glass ceiling.” They can’t see it, but they know that “something” is holding them back.

      Sometimes it’s in middle school, where the increased demands around organization do them in.

      Sometimes it’s high school, where school subjects’ increasing complexity require more reading and thought—and they can no longer get by on their wits.

      Sometimes it’s college, where they must provide their own structure and where there are many diversions. College also requires having an idea of your future, and planning toward it.

      Sometimes it’s in the first job. Sometimes in marriage. In parenthood.

      It just depends on the person, when and which straw will break the camel’s back.

      So, yes, it’s possible that, as you say, it became worse with age or more difficult to cope with through more adult tasks and responsibilities.

      Also, women with ADHD seem to cope better through high school because they fuel themselves with anxiety. But that is an exhausting way to cope.

      2. You could have shown ADHD symptoms even at a younger age, but they weren’t recognized as such.

      That happens all the time. Especially if the parent works in mental-health and has an orientation that does not include brain-based conditions. Psychoanalysts typically either do not believe in or understand the role of neurobiology in a person’s functioning.

      I encourage you to read this recent post, written by a leading clinical expert in ADHD who has ADHD herself. It’s an important book. If you can get your hands on a copy, please do so. And show to your mother. It might help her help her clients.


    2. Nise Hammeken

      Dear Gina,
      Thank you so much for the reply! This is so useful! Thanks! I really appreciate the labor you are taking in helping other people this way. It all makes a lot of sense to me. The “good news” diagnosis, the answers to the questions. Really. Thanks a lot.

      The good news thing. It’s funny. I was just talking to a friend about my suspicions and that I am going to visit the neurologist on march and he told me “well i hope it’s nothing” and I told him that “well I don’t hope it’s nothing because if it is nothing that would mean I AM lazy, stupid, irresponsible, or something….”. In the end we concluded that we both hope it is something and that it has a solution. Like ADD.

    3. Haha! Exactly, Nise. Let’s hope it’s ADHD. 🙂

      I’ll just add a note of caution….sometimes neurologists are not trained to evaluate for ADHD. They’re more focused on issues such as epilepsy, brain tumors, etc. So, you’ll want to be sure this neurologist is qualified to evaluate and has some expertise in ADHD.

      Keep us posted!


    4. Nise Hammeken

      Thanks Gina, that is a good note of caution. This neurologist in particular is an ADHD specialist and also a very solicited person that’s why I could only get an appointment until march! His name is Saúl Jesús Garza Morales. I’m thinking about writing a letter in advance explaining everything. Perhaps I can show it to you before I send it.

    5. Hi Nise,


      Sure, I’d be happy to read it.

      I recommend short bullet points, with a few paragraphs of narrative.

      I’ve found that many docs don’t have long attention spans. 🙂


  3. Pingback: Myth #8: Having ADHD Is No Big Deal!

  4. Yes! This is what makes it so hard to explain it to others and probably a big part of why ADHD is still the subject of so much denial. There’s no level for ADHDers and non-ADHDers to relate, so it feels very Us vs. Them a lot of the time.

    It’s not a real thing because everybody does that stuff sometimes, but it’s only okay if you do it sometimes, so pull yourself the F_ together and try harder. So it’s also hard to be kind to yourself when every day is plagued by the worry that you are being judged for your ‘character flaws’…

    There are too many nuances that aren’t spoken about when it comes to the primary impairments of ADHD and the cumulative impact of *living* with ADHD.

    1. So true, Catriona.

      The stories from last night’s Silicon Valley Adult ADHD meeting (which I’ve moderated for 10 years) are still with me. The traumatizing stories from childhood and even now, of parents and siblings who don’t understand that continuing to say “If you’d just buckle down!” isn’t helpful.

      Having the diagnosis in childhood, and being understood by the people around you, can go a long way toward preventing this kind of built-up of negative feedback that turns into self-talk.


  5. I hate when ADHD is used as an adjective — “that’s so ADHD.” To your point, one symptom of ADHD does not ADHD make. Yes, we’re all distractible. I’m known for following bunny trail upon bunny trail until I have no idea where I started — but I don’t have ADHD.

    We are all human. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Those with ADHD have a certain constellation of weaknesses that cause impairment. They also each have wonderful qualities too.

    As always, thanks for keeping it real.

    Penny Williams
    Author of “What to Expect When Parenting Children with ADHD” and “Boy Without Instructions”
    Parent of 2e preteen with ADHD, autism, and LDs

  6. In reference to Myth #2: An Excuse for Irresponsibility..

    Before I found out I had ADHD, certain members of my family thought I was extremely irresponsible and was simply trying to avoid the “real world.” It took me a long time to get through college, so they thought I was “always in school to avoid the real world.” When I finally finished college, I had a hard time making my way because I would get fired from all of my jobs. Just another instance of me “avoiding the real world.” Those certain family members continued to believe that I was just “a lazy, irresponsible, loafer who didn’t want to pull my own weight in the world.” It was so frustrating because I tried so hard, but I just couldn’t seem to get it right for some reason. After a while, I started thinking…perhaps, I am what they say – lazy and irresponsible.

    After finding out that I have ADHD, I learned that I’m not what they say – I’m not lazy and I’m not irresponsible. I started medication which helps me on a variety of fronts and I started behavioral therapy, which helps in other ways. To certain family members, however, my having ADHD “is just my excuse for being lazy and irresponsible all of those years.”

    I don’t use ADHD as an excuse, but it does help me understand myself and some of the things I do. I find myself less frustrated because I have structures in place to help me deal with my ADHD things.

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