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Why I Think the Name 'ADHD' Needs to Change

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Renaming a condition is not unheard of – especially when it comes to disorders of the brain and mind.

When you hear that someone has ADHD – attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder – it often conjures up a picture of a 7-year-old boy tearing ’round the classroom, causing havoc. But this “naughty child” stereotype is not only unfair, it’s the source of much of the stigma those with the condition face. And many end up internalizing the stereotype, causing self-stigmatization.

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Although a large number of those diagnosed with ADHD as children are hyperactive or have attention issues, these two symptoms alone won’t always result in a diagnosis. There are many kids who are inattentive or hyperactive who don’t have the condition: they’re just common symptoms in kids.

On top of that, many of those diagnosed with the condition as adults missed being identified as children because they didn’t fit the stereotype. So we’ve reached a point where people don’t have attention-deficit or hyperactivity and yet can be branded with the name ADHD.

ADHD Action Founder Michelle Beckett said the biggest issue with the current name is that it ignores the challenges those with the condition face connected to issues with organization, planning and emotional reactivity. These challenges are directly linked to executive function. And American ADHD expert Dr. Russell Barkley has described ADHD as an “executive function deficit disorder.” I’m not a fan of the word “deficit,” as it means “too little of,” and many of us with ADHD experience fluctuating executive function issues (e.g. the ability to hyperfocus).

Drop the word “deficit,” and I think “executive function disorder” could work.

Not everyone agrees with me. But I don’t think it’s possible to find a name that will please everyone. And while executive function disorder is my suggestion, I’d be open to other terms that better described the condition I have and removed some of the stigmas I face. I don’t think the general population is ever going to properly understand ADHD while it has a name that doesn’t mean what it is.

ADHD itself has had other names, including hyperkinetic impulse disorder and minimal brain dysfunction – both of which have since been discarded for being unsuitable.

Recent research looking into renaming schizophrenia to reduce stigma was published in The British Journal of Psychiatry. The research looked at changing its name to “integration disorder” – the term used in Japan – and found the new name “reduced attributions of dangerousness.”

The names of conditions can be changed – they are changed – and I think ADHD should be next.

Originally published: June 26, 2019
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