ADHD Children Hold High Perceptions of Themselves

Children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often struggle socially and academically. According to teacher reports, their behavior and performance in the classroom falls well below that of their peers. But when a child with ADHD is asked to rate their behavior or academic and social performance, they often inflate the results. There is abundant research demonstrating that ADHD children have distorted self-perceptions that exceed those of teachers and parents. This could be one reason why children with ADHD do not respond well to treatment that aims to change their behaviors. If these children truly see themselves as achieving or exceeding teachers’ expectations, to them, there is no need to alter their actual failing academic or behavior patterns. This can be quite frustrating to clinicians, teachers and parents. However, some existing research has suggested that offering incentives to children might sway them to make changes, regardless of their bias.

In order to explore this further, Betsy Hoza of the Department of Psychology at the University of Vermont conducted an experiment involving 178 children with ADHD and 86 healthy children, ranging in age from 7 to 12 years. She evaluated the children using the Self-Perception Profile for Children (SPPC) before and after they were offered monetary incentives to match their teachers’ assessments of their academic, social, and behavioral competence. Prior to the incentive, the ADHD children reported competence levels that were positively skewed compared to those of their teachers. However, after the monetary incentives, the children reduced their competence ratings in both academic and behavioral domains. But there were no decreases in how the children perceived their level of social competence, regardless of incentive. Hoza said, “This study demonstrates that levels of bias in self-perceptions of children with ADHD can be reduced to a limited degree if children are motivated to reduce such bias.” She added, “Nonetheless, even when motivated to do so, children with ADHD were not able to completely eliminate the bias in their self-perceptions.” Because of this, Hoza believes clinical efforts to increase self-perceptions in children with ADHD are not merely futile, but could further prevent their willingness to change their behaviors. She believes that the biased self-perceptions of children with ADHD are a result of self-preservation coping mechanisms and should be explored further in future research.

Hoza, B., Vaughn, A., Waschbusch, D. A., Murray-Close, D., McCabe, G. (2012, February 13). Can Children With ADHD Be Motivated to Reduce Bias in Self-Reports of Competence? Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027299

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  • AmyD


    February 16th, 2012 at 5:20 AM

    Self preservation. . . that completely makes sense.
    When everyone else is down on them, how else are these kids to survive but to feel good about themselves and their behavior?



    February 16th, 2012 at 1:04 PM

    Everybody sees themselves as being special.And if a child with ADHD does this it is normal too.But if this is causing trouble to the child’s development and his or her coping with the problem,then it is best to try and incorporate this finding into newer techniques of handling such things.

  • mitch g

    mitch g

    February 16th, 2012 at 2:39 PM

    I have seen kids who always think of themselves in a negative light. This kind of goes against the grain of how I have always thought about kids with ADHD and how they see themselves and their behavior.

  • BarBarA


    February 17th, 2012 at 9:44 AM

    Kids now have problems that we had never heard of as kids ourselves.But the cheerfulness and optimistic view of the self,as illustrated here,can help them overcome problems and really be ready!

  • Maddie


    February 20th, 2012 at 8:00 AM

    Don’t we want them to feel good about themselves? I know not necessarily the behavior but if they get too down on themselves then they will probably continue acting out.

  • RN on Duty

    RN on Duty

    February 24th, 2012 at 1:55 PM

    The fact of the matter is, children with ADHD receive approximately 17 negative comments to 1 positive comment. A headmaster at a school specializing in ADHD explained it like this… If you were to rub the inside of your wrist, it may feel pretty good for awhile, but if you continued to rub that same spot over and over and over again it would become raw and hurt. Hearing negative comments over and over degrade a child’s self esteem. So yes, this positive self talk is a survival skill to cope with the hell they have to put up with on a daily basis. It’s a healthy skill that should not be discouraged. Ideally, providing positive feedback, 5 positives to every negative tends to motivate better than criticizing theIr self perception. I do believe that self perception is a skill that needs to be learned over a Period of time, but it takes an ADHD child more practice and more time to learn. In addition to researching this topic, I think we need to examine the knowledge and training educators and psychologists have in the field of ADHD. From my own limited experience, I’ve found that educators and some psychologists think they know more than they do. Often the person with ADHD ends up having to do the educating.

  • jon


    March 5th, 2012 at 10:15 AM

    This article is jumping to a completely false conclusion, and I know this because I have ADD. People with ADD know they’re doing badly in life and school, and the guilt is horrible. We are not deluding ourselves. When we say that we’re doing fine, it’s because that’s the only answer that we feel will make all the painful “why” questions go away (atleast for just a little while). Trust me, this is more true than you’d believe, and this is all there is to it. Many perceive people with ADD as clueless idiots stumbling around their lives not accomplishing anything, — to the frustration of others — but people with ADD can be more cunning and subtle than you could possible fathom. You think there’s nothing going on in their heads, but we are absolutely cognizant of the nature of necessity. The problem is that the rhythm of our thoughts is off and it’s totally mentally nauseating for us. A good analogy would be that a normal person’s thoughts have the tempo and consistency of classical music. The notes have a coherent and pleasing pattern. When one musical phrase ends, the next set of notes starts JUST WHEN IT SHOULD. So normal people’s thoughts begin and end at the right time. You don’t start thinking about what you’re going to have for dinner before you’ve finished telling someone what time it is (this has happened to me). It’s like the thoughts are PUSHED into our heads. People with ADHD have thoughts that are like improvisational Jazz. The notes just fly around like crazy without any logical timing eventually congealing into something resembling music. Our minds are so scattered in the first place that when someone with ADHD is asked to quickly and coherently explain their problems in a nice little logical paragraph, it feels like we’re being put on the spot, shamed, guilted, and insulted. And we feel this way regardless of whether you actually mean it or not! I’m sorry, but that is the conclusion we immediately jump to. It is how we are made. We are trapped in the hell of our own uncontrollable thoughts, and the worst part is we don’t possess the mental concentration and clarity to be able to explain the frustrating problems we’re having. We just can’t do it. If parents don’t have the patience and compassion to NOT PUSH or jump to conclusions (because let’s face it you are frustrated) and to just listen (for hours if need be, or get a counselor and be compassionate about it! don’t *MAKE* him go! that casts a negative pretext), then the hell will never cease for the child perhaps for their entire life. This is probably nonsensical to you, because you haven’t experienced what it is like to have ADD. Your brain works a different way, and you shouldn’t expect someone with ADD to just snap out of it and respond exactly like you demand them to. It’s a medical condition like how glaucoma or high blood pressure are medical conditions. Most importantly and no matter what, you must keep in mind that they are ABSOLUTELY NOT BEING BAD ON PURPOSE!!! I live a very hard life because of my ADHD and just getting to the point of initial treatment is a long hard road. It took me hours to write this.

  • JasonC


    November 26th, 2012 at 9:22 AM

    I have to agree with Jon. My brother and I both have ADHD. He has the hyperactivity and I don’t, but we still respond the same way to questions about our performance. Why? To get people off our backs and stop asking questions. We know how bad we are and we know we can do better, we just don’t like people to reminded us of it every second.

    It’s not a reminder we want, it’s support and encouragement(when we get it right). As soon as people around us realised this, our marks and social behaviour improved. My brother is now a Naval Engineer and I’ve just finished a BA degree with 1st class honours.

    If you want an idea of our thought processes then Jon’s explanation is pretty accurate. We don’t have a train of thought, it comes all at once. The ideas fly at us with the speed of a bullet train. I can understand it, immediately, but if you want me to explain it to you, well… it’s going to take a while.

    So what’s a good way to get someone with ADHD to explain their ideas? Imagine that we are like Google, the more specific the query is, the simpler the answer. Ask us something more general and you’re gonna get a whole load of stuff. And good luck trying to sort it out, ’cause we can’t ;D

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