parent opinion

'I’m the mum of an 11-year-old child with ADHD and I hate the diagnosis.'

I’m the mother of an 11-year-old child with an ADHD mind, and I hate the diagnosis. I don’t hate my child’s mind - she’s my inspiration. I loathe the name - Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. 

A paediatrician diagnosed my daughter with ADHD when she was eight. The diagnostic process was painless enough. We sat in the play area of a doctor’s office; pictures of green leaves and happy-looking bees lined the walls. 

The doctor, a middle-aged man with a steady voice, wanted all the details. He asked about pregnancy, birth, milestones, health, sleep, friends, family, behaviour, screen time, sports, grades - even snack preferences. Then he chatted with my daughter and got her to draw pictures and do activities. She loved it; it was like a quirky playdate. 

After a few questionnaires and a psychologist session, my child got a formal invitation to the ADHD club.

And that’s where I got stuck. When I went to share the name of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder with her, I choked. No one wants a deficit. A deficit means you’re losing, lacking or behind. It means you have less than people expect. The term disorder is no better. A disorder means you’re not functioning right; your bits aren’t in their expected places. The name Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder says you’re a bit broken. 

The label got under my skin - my child wasn’t broken.

While you're here, watch Mia Freedman speak about her ADHD diagnosis on No Filter. Story continues after video.

Video via Mamamia

I know we need to name things so we can be clear. We need to categorise, differentiate and diagnose. But language matters. It matters the most when we attach labels to real-life humans with real-life feelings. I don’t understand why we can’t do it better. 

I was headed into ADHD overwhelm, so I caught up with a friend; she was always a woman with answers. We found a quiet nook in a local cafe. Armed with coffee, we unpacked my ADHD name dilemma. 

“I can’t stand the name. My child’s not defective; she thinks differently.”

My friend usually talked at the speed of light, but today she paused and stirred her coffee.

“Your daughter is eight. She doesn’t even know what deficit means. Why does it matter?” 

It was true; my daughter wouldn’t know deficit meant not enough or not adequate. I’d never heard my daughter complain about an ongoing lolly deficit in our house. 

Why did it matter to me so much? Was I worried about how the label would affect my daughter or was it an affront to me? Was it a pride problem? Was there a secret speck of shame growing inside me? Being judged comes with being an ADHD parent. Your kid is upside down in a tree when they’re supposed to be sitting. Or they’re dreaming about dragons when they’re supposed to be working on an assessment. 

People don’t get it; they offer suggestions, raise eyebrows or shrug it off. The judgments accumulate in your mind like leaves in a gutter.


Sitting with my friend in the cafe, I remembered my first encounter with ADHD at primary school. It was 1990, and a boy in my class had ADHD (then called ADD). I recall the teachers and parents agreed the kid was a delinquent ratbag. They also agreed his mother was a miserable failure as a parent. On top of this, they held grave concerns that ADHD was a growing excuse for bad behaviour and bad parenting. 

I don’t like feeling judged, but I can shake it off because my daughter’s health and happiness matter far more than what people think of my parenting skills. I realised I was frightened for my daughter; frightened people would look at her the way they looked at that kid at my school. 

I was frightened she’d taste ADHD stigma and perceive herself as broken. The name Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder says right up front, in black and white, the person with ADHD is flawed or less than the rest of us. 

Even if our rational mind knows better, labels with overtones of failure and deficiency are sticky. I can’t have my daughter believe she’s inadequate, no kid needs that, and it’s not true.

I can tell you with absolute certainty my daughter isn’t deficient or defective - she’s fantastic. She’s brilliant, kind-hearted, and bound to make you laugh. She has energy reserves that let her run laps of the oval, walk the dog, and climb a mountain before 10am. She thinks in a way I can’t; she can go deep and sideways and synthesise all at the same time. Creativity moves through her and comes out in ways you don’t see coming. 


Listen to Mamamia's parenting podcast, This Glorious Mess. On this episode, Maggie Dent speaks about raising girls to be confident, happy and heard. Post continues below.

I’m not saying ADHD is without challenges. In everyday ways, ADHD folk play life on level hard. When they have to do something in a certain way, by a certain time, like an assignment or an exam, they struggle to stay on track. On a semi-regular basis, they lose sight of the track altogether. Impulsivity and a deep aversion to boredom are in the mix too. But it doesn’t mean ADHD people are deficient. It means they aren’t geared for certain activities. They need scaffolding, tools and strategies to avoid getting lost.

At 11 years old, my daughter knows ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, but we use the term 'ADHD mind' instead. It’s a way of distancing ourselves from the negative words.

To us, an ADHD mind means high energy, enthusiasm, and amped-up creativity. It means split focus and bouts of hyper-focus. It also means that staying organised and connected to what the world requires of you at a particular moment is hard. 

ADHD is a type of brain, not a deficient person; I hope my daughter can look past the lousy label and see ADHD for what it is. 

Feature image: Getty.

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