5 MYTHS Youth Workers Believe about ADHD

That kid is hyper.

I hear the phrase a lot from youth workers and volunteers. They are focusing on high activity, low attention, and high distractibility. This outward behavior is obvious but they may have bought into at least 5 myths about ADHD that can be harmful to the student and to the ministry. Here’s what every youth worker needs to know.

MYTH #1  It’s not real

That kid just wants attention. This sometimes goes through youth workers’ minds. The student can’t sit still, keeps getting up and walking around, and can sometimes be more entertaining than what is going on at the front of the room!

ADHD is very real but the student even the family may not have had it diagnosed. All of us have different levels of distractibility and have unconscious annoying behaviors (ask your spouse !) In the case of the ADHD student there are very real brain wiring and chemical conditions that make it very difficult to sit still and concentrate. The research is very clear. To deny it would be like saying , “I don’t believe your blindness or lack of hearing is real.”

MYTH #2 ADHD kids are all the same

They’re just hyper-spazzes. I actually heard this from a youth worker. They lumped all of them into the same category. Adhd students are both male and female and can present up to 12 different symptoms.

There are also 3 categories of ADHD that you may not be aware of.
A. “Children and adults who display only attentional symptoms are classified as ‘ADHD primarily inattentive sub-type’, also known as ADD in the past.
B. Those who display hyperactivity and impulsivity are diagnosed as ‘primarily hyperactive-impulsive sub-type’. This sub-type is not seen very often.
C. The most common sub-type is ‘ADHD combined subtype’ where all three symptoms are present.” Centre for ADHD Awareness

Possible Symptoms of Inattention:

  • Distracted easily form the task at hand by noises or things going on around them
  • Looking around frequently
  • Staying focused on one activity
  • Daydreaming
  • Not focusing on speaker when spoken to
  • Unable to remember verbal instructions
  • Misinterpreting instructions
  • Unable to pay attention to details
  • Completing work without being reminded
  • Losing things
  • Difficulty organizing belongings and work
  • Difficulty starting things
  • Forgetting normal routines

Possible Symptoms of Hyperactivity:

  • Fidgeting and squirming
  • Problems remaining seated
  • Talking excessively and at inappropriate times
  • Often running and climbing
  • Stands instead of sitting at the table
  • Unable to settle into a quiet activity
  • Constantly on the go
  • Frequently handling or touching objects

Possible Symptoms of Impulsivity:

  • Butting into conversations
  • Blurting out answers in the classroom
  • Beginning work before instructions given
  • Disturbing others who are playing
  • Grabbing others belongings
  • Touching, grabbing or hitting others
  • Problems waiting for turn or standing in line
  • Making impulsive decisions

MYTH #3 They know what they are doing: it’s just an excuse.

Teens in general aren’t that self -aware. Student will often say and do things that they don’t remember saying or doing because they are distracted by phones, thoughts in their head, and what others are thinking about them. When an ADHD student’s brain is formed in such a way to miss these kinds of cues.

In one ed psych assessment that I sat in on, the student was asked to sit still in the chair for the interview. The neuro psychologist asked her questions while she paced, sat on a radiator, looked at books on a shelf and stood looking out the window. When she finally returned to the chair, the doctor asked: “On a scale of 1 to 5, how did you do staying put in the chair for the past 5 minutes.” Without hesitation the student said “Five out of Five!”

That’s not to say that every student is that oblivious but not being aware of the behavior is one of the key symptoms. Students have learned to adjust somehow as they get older but many of these behaviors will hang on into adulthood.

MYTH #4 These kids are a problem

Is a student in a wheel chair a “problem?” It’s easy to reduce a person to their disability. This disability may affect others and so youth group leaders may roll their eyes when the student walks through the door. The student may make things more complicated for the leader but there are many ways to see this student as a blessing instead of a problem. They always have special qualities beneath the surface that need to be discovered. And from what I can see, some of the best youth workers I have encountered have ADHD!

When God created that student, he didn’t make a mistake. In his love, he has a plan for each student using what we may see as a problem as a blessing to the group and to the kingdom of God.

No parent wants their child to be treated like a problem. These students may need special care and leaders may need special training but this is God’s will for your group. You will all become better by loving this student.

MYTH #5 The Meds don’t work and aren’t needed.

One parent told me that they don’t give their junior high student their meds on the weekends because they aren’t in school. What they aren’t considering is the complex nature of social interaction. Students with ADHD miss social cues that other students pick up on. Also, youth night may not be as demanding on the mind as middle school classes, but important concepts are being taught; attention is required.

Ritalin or slow release Ritalin helps a student when large or small group activities are taking place. It speeds up the brain and helps the student filter out unnecessary information and focus on what is important. Sending a student off to youth, or a youth retreat without this helpful aid is like sending a blind student out without their seeing eye dog.

Most Important

This barely scratches the surface of what every youth worker needs to know about ADHD. Seeing these students as created this way by God, a blessing to rejoice over instead of a problem to endure, will help change your leader’s hearts. Get as much information as possible plus an understanding the unique challenges your student’s face. This will help you bring out the best from all of your students.

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Ron Powell


Ron Powell is the Adviser to the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has been involved in youth ministry for over 30 years. He continues to volunteer, write, teach, and speak to parents, leaders and teens. If you would like to contact him you can email ron.powell@vanguardcollege.com


  1. Ron, This is a great article and it is timely with many Youth Groups starting up again in September. I have worked with many youth with AD and HD and ADHD. Many times, as a counsellor, I would be asked by their parents: “How will my child survive in this world? What can they possibly do to earn a living when we are required so often to sit still?” I have often responded with numerous possibilities of occupations where they would be required to be on their feet, moving and responding to varied stimuli. Some examples might be: Firefighter, Ambulance Medical Response, Marine, Parks & Recreation Specialist, Forest Ranger, Policeman, etc. There are so many occupations that involve being on your feet and moving (out of the over 20,000 identified occupations in the National Occupation Survey). It is quite possible that God has a plan for these youth and where they might be most helpful in this society. They are blessed in so many other ways and we simply need to open our minds and hearts to what they can do rather than over-focussing on what they have difficulty doing. Thank you so much for this article. Wayne Townsend http://www.intelligentleaders.ca

    • Wayne thank you for your comment.
      What I didn’t mention is that one of my daughters has ADHD. I have had many of the concerns that these parents mentioned to you. I really appreciate your suggestions!

  2. Thanks, Ron! I’ve recently had a few students coming to youth who are on the autism spectrum, and I confess I really don’t know enough about the spectrum in order to effectively minister to them. Any advice or links you could share would be extremely helpful.

    • Clinton my first response is that it is really helpful to have someone working directly with the student. As a leader you probably won’t have the time you need and work with the other students at the same time. Depending on their behaviors you may need to learn from their parents what works best.

      I found this article by Fuller Youth Institute Very helpful http://fulleryouthinstitute.org/articles/special-needs
      special needs youth

      Inclusion is the goal but the group will have to learn how best to include these students. The fuller article has some great ideas.
      all the best,

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