Addressing ADHD stigma

About ADHD

Addressing ADHD stigma

This section helps parents, carers and teachers to:

  • Identify some of the reasons why people with ADHD face stigma and prejudice
  • Explore ways to address and combat stigma in ADHD
  • Answer common questions people ask about ADHD
  • Counter myths and misunderstandings about what people with ADHD are like
  • Discuss ADHD in class.

On this page:

  1. Understanding why stigma exists ↓
  2. Addressing stigma ↓
  3. Common questions and myths ↓
  4. Raising awareness of ADHD with other children ↓

Understanding why stigma exists

ADHD is a condition about which people can have strong views and opinions. Sometimes, these views are negative and can lead to mistaken assumptions about children with ADHD and their parents or carers.

This short presentation looks at some of the reasons behind stigma and prejudice about ADHD.

Anticipating stigma

Over time, bad experiences may lead the child, siblings and/or parents/carers to anticipate stigma and negative reactions from other people. This can lead to:

  • A low expectation of the child from the parents/carers and teachers
  • Avoidance of situations that involve the risk of criticism or opposition.

ADHD stigma, anticipated stigma, experienced stigma

Experiencing stigma

This fear of stigma is reinforced when the child, siblings and/or parents/carers actually experience stigma, for example:

  • Bullying
  • Being shunned in the street or playground
  • Not being included in activities.

It is important to break free of this cycle and counteract stigma.

Why ADHD stigma exists

A coaching tool that looks at some of the reasons behind stigma and prejudice about ADHD


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Addressing stigma

Stigma around ADHD can arise from misinformation about the condition. As a parent/carer or teacher, it can sometimes be a struggle to change the views of others about ADHD. This is because some ideas are long-held or because the other person will not consider a new perspective. The following examples can help address stigma.

 Parents and carers:

Contact your local ADHD support group to meet other parents and share ideas about what can help

Be clear and open with other people/parents about ADHD. By raising the subject first, it might be possible to address some of their concerns

Work closely with teachers

Give the child ideas on how to discuss ADHD with other children


Work closely with parents/carers to understand more about the implications of their child’s ADHD

If the child is new to you, find out what may have worked in the past. Use this as the basis for making decisions in the classroom which help the child

Find out more about your local/regional education authority’s policies on ADHD and discrimination

Given the stigma that can surround ADHD it may be a good idea for the parents/carers of the child with ADHD and teachers to think about the issues that other parents might raise. It may help to hold a meeting with the parents of the other children and address their concerns. This discussion guide helps teachers, parents and carers to:

  • Introduce and discuss ADHD with other parents
  • Address concerns other parents may have about the impact of the child with ADHD on their own children.

How a child with ADHD can counteract stigma

As a child with ADHD may face stigma inside or outside school, it is important to find practical ways of addressing the whole problem:

  • Help the child with ADHD understand the perceptions of others so that negative comments can be handled and potentially reduced
  • Show through your own reactions that despite negative comments you stay positive.

Counteracting stigma can help the child to focus much more on their strengths, instead of on negative aspects. This in turn can enable the child to develop greater self-esteem and improved self-confidence. It can be important to help them to build this resilience.

Practical steps the child can take to counteract stigma include:

  • Work with an adult to develop ways to cope with negative comments
  • Try to consider different interpretations of the comments/stigma, for example:
    • Are comments justified based on behaviour?
    • Can the child accept that he/she was in the wrong and try to do better next time?
  • Think whether the comments were made because the other person is having problems and is therefore less tolerant than usual. If this is the case, try not to take the comments personally
  • Think about whether the comments are true. Recognise if this is an area that needs to be worked on
  • Discuss the comments with teachers or parents/carers. Think about how the comments make everyone feel and work with teachers and parents/carers to consider better ways of responding
  • Focus on activities that you are good at and areas of strength, e.g. individual sporting achievement verses team sports.

Discussing ADHD with other parents (for use by parents)

A discussion guide to help parents and carers discuss ADHD with other parents


Discussing ADHD with other parents (for use by teachers)

A discussion guide to help teachers discuss ADHD with parents


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Common questions and myths

When talking about ADHD with other parents, it can be helpful to think about the types of questions they may have, as well as some myths and mistaken ideas. These short presentations give examples of common questions and common myths, and how to deal with them.

Common questions

A coaching tool that gives examples of common questions about ADHD, and how to deal with them


Common myths

A coaching tool that gives examples of common myths about ADHD, and how to deal with them


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Raising awareness of ADHD with other children

As a teacher, raising awareness of a child’s ADHD with other children in the classroom requires careful planning and management. The following questions may help:

  • Are the messages you give consistent with the school’s policies on:
    • Inclusion, diversity and confidentiality?
    • Talking about a child’s medical condition?
    • Discussing the child’s ADHD in the classroom?
  • Is the information you give clear and simple?
  • Is it in a form appropriate to the age of the children?
  • If a child with ADHD wants to be involved, could you include a section around ‘what it feels like to be me’?
  • Is information presented to the other children in a way that is sympathetic?
  • Does what you say and how you say it counter rather than reinforce stigma about ADHD?
  • After `raising awareness’ of ADHD does the child feel more different and isolated, rather than less?
  • Does the learning around ADHD reinforce the beliefs and values of the school community, for example:
    • Mutual respect?
    • Recognising and accepting that everyone is different?

Examples of ways to raise awareness of ADHD

Approach the topic of ADHD in the wider context of behaviour, learning and inclusion with the key message that “everybody is welcome at the school”.

Consider if a series of discussions may be appropriate dealing with topics such as:

  • Social skills
  • Bullying
  • ADHD
  • Learning difficulties
  • Disability.

If appropriate for the age of the children, refer to or use materials such as the:

  • Percy Jackson books
  • Medikidz book on ADHD.

See the Further information section on this site for more details.

Contact your local ADHD support group. They may be able to put you in touch with other teachers who have experience of raising awareness of ADHD with other children.

Focus on the more positive aspects of ADHD, as well as the three key symptoms.

For example:

  • Highlight the creativity that a child with ADHD can bring to their schoolwork.

Discussing inclusion

Inclusion can be handled in different ways, depending on the age of the children. For example inclusion and ADHD could form an element of personal, social health and economic education.

The topics can be:

  • Included within the planned curriculum
  • Covered in specific lessons with dedicated curriculum time
  • Part of a whole school activity, such as morning assembly
  • Specific projects.

Inclusion could also be a topic in a ‘circle time’ meeting. This type of meeting could involve a mixture of:

  • Children
  • Teachers
  • Support staff
  • Parents.

It could discuss interpersonal and organisational issues relating to ADHD, with the children sitting round in a circle. 

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American Academy of Pediatrics. Clinical practice guideline 2001; 108(4): 1033-44.

Burt SA. Psychological Bulletin 2009; 135(4): 608-37.

Coleman D, et al. Psychiatr Serv 2009; 60: 950-7.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition 2013. American Psychiatric Association.

Faraone SV, et al. Biol Psychiatry 2005; 57(11): 1313-23.

Kovshoff H, et al. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry 2012; 21(2): 87-9.

MTA Cooperative group. Arch Gen Psychiatry 1999; 56: 1073.

NICE Clinical guideline 72: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. 2008.

O’Regan F. How to teach and manage children with ADHD (2010). Nottingham, UK: LDA.

World Health Organisation. The ICD-10 Classification of Mental and Behavioural disorders 1993. Available at Accessed 26 June 2013.

Ziegler Dendy CA. Teenagers with ADD and ADHD (2006). Bethesda, US: Woodbine House.

These materials have been produced with practical advice and guidance provided by the expert European ADHD Awareness Taskforce.