How to Deal with People Who Think ADHD Doesn’t Exist

Screen shot 2014-04-07 at 10.04.35 AMA few days ago I went to an event. There was lots of small talk with strangers and the inevitable questions, like, “What do you do?” I am a coach for adults with ADHD, so I say that. Usually there is a person who has an issue with ADHD. Rather than keeping that opinion to themselves, they start an attack. Even though this has been happening for 10 years, it always surprises me. Each time takes a different slant, but this time it went like this . . .

A woman thought everyone is misdiagnosed with ADHD, and all their symptoms are caused by an allergy. In her 20′s she gained a lot of weight and was unmotivated and to do anything and couldn’t think straight. After lots of research she found out that she had an allergy to something unusual. When she cut this thing out of her life, she lost the weight and regained her cognitive functioning. It wasn’t clear if she was ever diagnosed with ADHD, or if she just felt like she had a few of the symptoms. However, it was very clear that she gets argumentative and rude when she meets someone in the ADHD field. She went on and on about how ADHD doesn’t exist and that if people just knew about this allergy solution, then all the symptoms would go away.

I tried to explain that allergies can make ADHD worse, but they don’t cause it, and that ADHD doesn’t just appear in adulthood and would have been present since childhood. But she wasn’t interested in reason. She just wanted to keep talking about her opinion—which she did for a really long time.

Here is what I know for sure:

1) ADHD is a very hot topic—it stirs up a lot of emotions
2) People with even a little knowledge about ADHD think they are experts
3) People discuss at great length if ADHD exists, which they don’t for other conditions like cancer or Parkinson’s

4) When you are connected with ADHD—either you have it, or work with people who have it—strangers think it’s fine to have a heated debate about the topic whenever you leave your home.

When you have ADHD, life is already challenging. You really don’t need this extra stress. Plus, when people are argumentative and picking apart the validity of ADHD, it feels personal. Because ADHD is part of who you are. Which means you end up questioning everything about yourself. I don’t have ADHD, and still this encounter really upset me.

If you have an encounter like this, here’s what to do:

1) Remember that ADHD does exist

Here’s what two of the ADHD giants have to say on the matter:

“ADHD, a disorder which has more than 10,000 articles in science journals attesting to its validity and numerous adverse effects on people’s lives.”  —Russell Barkley, international ADHD expert

“No responsible scientific authority says ADHD does not exist.”  —Dr. Edward Hallowell, author and everyone’s go-to expert on ADHD

2) Remember that it’s not about you or ADHD, it’s about them

Usually when someone is this angry about a topic it means they are projecting their issues onto you. In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz says it has nothing to do with you and it’s all about the other person. I highly recommend you read this book.

3) Arm yourself with talking points

Talking points are statements that are short and to the point that help you in stressful situations. They stop you from thinking afterwards, “Oh, I wish I had of said xyz.” You can prepare them ahead of time and bring them out when you need them. They are intended to disarm the person who is arguing with you. Marcia came up with these talking points when I told her what happened to me. Aren’t they good?

“Do you always discredit people, even when you’ve just met them?”

“Are you trying to discredit me, or just show how much you know?”

“That’s so interesting. How is it you know everything?”

“Me thinks thou doest protest too much.”

4) Debrief afterwards

Don’t suffer alone. If you have been in one of these situations, reach out to a compassionate friend afterwards or leave a comment here. Nothing is worse than having this sort of thing happen and then feeling all alone.

Jacqui Sinfield is an ADHD Coach and author. You can find more from her at

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