Let’s Not Rename ADHD

The Redskins can't stop me from using their logo, because they've lost the trademark rights. This is just a picture of a handsome Native American. Nothing more.

The Redskins can’t stop me from using their logo, because they’ve lost the trademark rights. This is just a picture of a handsome Native American. Nothing more.

No matter what the owner of the Washington football franchise says, the team will someday not be named the Redskins. It’s not that a once-honorable name imperceptibly morphed into a racial slur. It’s always been derogatory, but now a sizable majority admit that it’s derogatory,

ADHD is a very inconvenient, largely inaccurate name, so there are often calls to rename it. Since there’s no convenient place to register medical name-change requests, these discussions serve mostly to arouse the creative juices of whatever online forum they arise in. The proposals are generally terrible, but at least they give a little extra insight into a complex syndrome:

Attention Surplus Disorder

Executive Dysfunction – Ineffective Type

…Huh? Oh! Sorry Syndrome

Disorder Disorder

In my book, I referred to ‘Teacher Nuisance Disorder’, but that’s only a riff on a popular stereotype that describes one small subset of kids with ADHD. It’s easier to capture one aspect of ADHD than to sum it all up in a couple words.

Some renaming attempts come out of the academic/research community and reflect the increasing knowledge base and rapidly improving understanding of ADHD. Dopamine Deficit Syndrome refers to dozens of actual studies that show less dopamine activity in ADHD brains, but that’s only one of a host of differences that are turning up with each new brain-probing technique that comes along. We’re learning so much, so quickly, that it’s probably too early to rename ADHD from a causality viewpoint.

Probably the main impetus behind the calls to rename things are the negative connotations that attach themselves to names over time. One “Rename ADHD” forum poster put it succinctly: “I feel bad for doctors always having to invent new names for things whenever the old ones get co-opted as insults.”

Indiana University researchers interviewed adults about their attitudes toward a hypothetical new neighbor moving in next door. Naturally, it’s called the National Stigma Study. They didn’t use any labels–only descriptions–of four different hypothetical new neighbor children: one with characteristics of depression, one with ADHD behaviors, one with asthma symptoms and one with “normal troubles”, i.e. typical adolescent adjustment issues.

"Hidden Scars" A video short on verbal abuse. It can be viewed at YouTube.

“Hidden Scars” A video short on verbal abuse. It can be viewed at YouTube.

By a significant margin, the interviewees did not want their children to make friends with the glum or the bouncy new neighbor kid. There was very little hesitation about associating with the asthmatic or “normally troubled” neighbors. The stigma with mental health disorders does not reside in the label. Rather, the label is attached to stigmatized characteristics. Professionals who “prefer not to label kids” aren’t saving anybody from anything. They are just leaving the job to frustrated adults and socially insecure playmates.

When the Washington football team is renamed, they will remain the talented, storied football franchise they have always been. When ADHD is renamed, the new name – however deftly it avoids any critical tone or bias – will immediately become the newest epithet for the person who forgets or does something random and impulsive.

Let’s not rename ADHD. Let’s continue figuring out how to empower kids with better self-control so their behavior doesn’t inspire ridicule.

Physician specializing in diagnosis and management of attention deficit disorders and related conditions.

Posted in ADD, ADHD, diagnosis, Uncategorized
6 comments on “Let’s Not Rename ADHD
  1. wolfshades says:

    I don’t quite understand. Is there a huge movement among doctors and researchers to rename ADHD to something else? This is the first I’ve heard of it. (I haven’t yet peered into the latest DSM – but I assume it still exists in there?)

    I agree with you, by the way. The debate about ADHD goes on, and those of us who have it continually bump heads with disdainful people who think it doesn’t exist, and that we’re “just not trying hard enough”. I’d rather see the name remain, so that the argument doesn’t get further fogged up.


    • Within the ADHD community, there are many informal calls to change the name. The recently published DSM-5 tweaked the sub-type designations, but left the basic name as ADHD.


  2. Nick Gloria says:

    I have ADHD. I am 28 years old and I constantly feel like I am fighting a losing battle. I struggle through so many things; procrastination, anger, self doubt, depression, money problems, problems with work, problems with school (not going right now, but I haven’t given up on the dream!), problems at home, a general lack of ability to organize, and a near-constant loss of working memory from a minute to minute basis. Please note, however, that I did not mention hyperactivity. For a reason.

    I understand that you feel it frivolous to change the medical terminology, but I don’t. One of the worst parts of having this disorder is that it is so hard to explain (much less prove) to people what it is that I go through on a daily basis. What most people don’t realize is that I have suffered through problems in MOST MAJOR ASPECTS OF MY LIFE. Think about that for a second. Don’t you think that renaming ADHD with “Executive Function Disorder” would make those friends, colleagues, family members, and teachers stop and reassess what they thought they knew? Don’t you think that they will then ask somebody with it what the name means? Or a proffesional that deals with this subject. That’s important, very important. All of a sudden we have created a discussion about what ADHD is like for that INDIVIDUAL. ADHD cannot be defined by one thing, instead it has to be defined by a group of symptoms that can present themselves in any combination from one patient to the next. When we create this conversation we give people like myself a unique opportunity to educate someone as to how many parts of daily life is affected, and in what specific ways it affects them.

    Right now, people with ADHD are suffering because they are not being taken seriously and a name change can go a long way to change that. Changing the name doesn’t just remove some stigma, it can change the conversations that those of us that suffer from ADHD have with the people in our lives.

    What makes ADHD so difficult to deal with is that you constantly fight the same battles, make the same tough decisions, and suffer the same setbacks minute to minute, day to day, and year to year. That sucks. That’s depressing. If the people around me can better understand that, then I can start to feel understood and fully appreciated for what and who I am. Besides, not every part of my ADHD is bad. I don’t know anybody who can focus like me when I am doing something I am interested in (like this). That doesn’t have anything to do with hyperactivity but if people only know that part of ADHD, then to them, I clearly don’t have it or it isn’t as big of a deal as I am claiming. If I had a penny for every time that somebody said that I am just blaming everyday life on ADHD, I would be rich. Except, I’d spend it all on impulse buys…

    If the medical community is not willing to change the name, then they will be continuing a mistake that they made many years ago. That mistake is preventing a lot of open and honest conversations at the personal level that could make more of a difference than possibly any medication. What reason to keep the name could you possibly have that is more important than that?

    P.S. people with ADHD don’t have a problem with self control. We have a problem with needing self control more often than most. We are great with self control, compared to most, it’s just that shiny things get our attention more than our peers. Saying that we need better self control is perpetuating the myths and lack of understanding. Yes, our self control can be better – but that’s only because we have to deal with more impulses more often. Only talking about self control makes it worse.

    Thank you.


  3. Jeff Klinger says:

    The name ADHD was a major reason I didn’t seek help and wasn’t diagnosed until I was 25. I never had trouble paying attention in class, so I thought I couldn’t have ADHD. It was a different story when it came time to do homework, so for years I self-diagnosed as ‘lazy’ and was clinically diagnosed as depressed.

    Turns out that I was able to pay attention in class because I like learning new things and I found lectures and discussions engaging. Homework was just regurgitating what I already knew to prove to others that I knew it, which seemed pointless and boring to me, so I had trouble doing it. I did some research and found out that people with ADHD don’t actually have an attention deficit, but rather an attention dysfunction – an inability to control their attention. This explains the periods of hyperfocus that we occasionally experience.

    If I could choose, I’d rename the condition Inhibition Dysfunction Disorder because it seems that both the attention dysfunction and the hyperactivity are caused by a decreased ability to inhibit one’s impulses.


    • Thanks for a very cogent comment, Jeff. There would be some benefit in more meaningful subtypes. Very few people have an actual deficit of attention as you pointed out. Most have trouble managing attention to be precise. And while inhibition is the norm, there are people with ADHD that are overly inhibited and reticent. I have yet to hear a name that doesn’t leave a sizable subgroup out. Good luck with the impulse control! OM


  4. Jeff says:

    Another issue with ‘Hyperactivity’ being in the name is that a lot of girls go undiagnosed, because they’re often socialized to present less hyperactively than boys. I don’t have a problem with the name because of stigma necessarily, but it’s counter-productive to have that word in there since so many people with ADHD are not at all hyperactive.
    Race also factors into it; students of colour are more likely to be disciplined for behaviours that white students are taken to psychiatrists for. ‘Hyperactivity’ just comes with too much racial and gendered baggage to be useful for describing a disorder that can be present in people of all backgrounds, many of whom are no more hyperactive than the average person.

    I have ADHD and people are constantly surprised because externally I appear really calm most of the time. I think Executive Dysfunction is a much better name because it applies to the disorder as a whole, instead of addressing one specific part that isn’t even present in a lot of patients.
    The name ADHD is like calling Far-Sightedness “Trouble Reading Text Messages Disorder.” Like, sure, that can be a part of it, but it doesn’t come close to communicating how it affects people.

    Liked by 1 person

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Oren Mason MD
Oren Mason MD

Oren Mason MD

Physician specializing in diagnosis and management of attention deficit disorders and related conditions.

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