Dr Tony Lloyd ADHD FoundationPeople living with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) should stop being stigmatised as underachievers, following Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Simone Biles’ disclosure that she has the condition, the head of an ADHD charity has said.

US gymnast Biles, who won 4 golds in Rio, had to defend herself after leaked documents showed the athlete took methylphenidate – better known as Ritalin – in August this year as treatment for her ADHD. Biles, who has the backing of the USA gymnastics governing body, says the drug does not give her an unfair advantage. Therapeutic Use Exemptions allow individuals to take banned substances if required for specific medical needs.

“Having ADHD, and taking medicine for it is nothing to be ashamed of nothing that I'm afraid to let people know,” Biles tweeted (@Simone_Biles) after the leak was made public.

Dr Tony Lloyd, CEO of the ADHD Foundation, applauded Biles’ response, and called for a re-evaluation of ADHD and how it is viewed.

“It is time we challenge and drop the continued stigmatisation of people living with ADHD, he said. “This sends out a very clear and positive message that recognises the very fact that a lot of people with neurodevelopmental conditions are successful individuals, dispelling the myth that anyone with ADHD is an under-achiever with behavioural difficulties. 

“Having ADHD does not mean you can’t achieve in your chosen field. In fact, there are some very high-profile high-tech companies in California who actively recruit people with neurodevelopmental conditions such as ADHD and Asperger syndrome because they recognise the unique skills these people bring to the workforce. There are people with ADHD in every profession and many successful leaders, executives, athletes, psychiatrists, paediatricians, entrepreneurs, barristers, you name it, are testimony that challenges the stereotyping and stigma that were all too common in the past. 

“Simone Biles demonstrates that with the right support in place, people with ADHD can achieve and fulfil their potential.”

Dr Lloyd called on government ministers in health and education to work together to enable children with learning disabilities, including ADHD, to achieve their full potential in the classroom from a young age, including early intervention. This would include supporting and training parents to enable their child to learn how to live and learn successfully with ADHD through school-based parents training programmes.

“We want ministers from both health and education to ensure greater collaboration between schools and health providers so that young people with mental health difficulties are identified within the first year of school and have access to the NICE guidelines multi-modal services,” he said. 

“Without this commitment, many very gifted and able children with additional needs and learning difficulties will have their educational prospects hindered. The UK cannot be a meritocracy until we recognise the gifts and talents of all children - and use diagnostic labels as an excuse for underachievement.”