On TikTok, Audrée Archambault saw videos of people talking about the manifestations they associate with their ADHD – attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity.

Audrée, 36, had never suspected that she had ADHD (she was pretty quiet at school and she’s mastered the art of to-do lists), but these videos were funny to her. Her frequent oversights, those times when her partner talks to her but she doesn’t hear anything, that difficulty doing anything else when she’s waiting for an appointment…

“It looked a lot like me, what I was seeing, but my reflex was to say, ‘Everyone must recognize themselves in these videos,'” says the children’s author.

During the same period, her 12-year-old boy, who has typical ADHD symptoms, was being assessed. While reading on the subject, Audrée learned that, in women, the disorder is often expressed differently, more by inattention than by hyperactivity.

“And then one day, I came across a video that talks about masking, this tendency to mask symptoms to make it more socially acceptable. »

Audrée consulted a neuropsychologist, who assessed her extensively, going so far as to read comments from her old report cards. In April, she received the diagnosis. Attention deficit disorder without hyperactivity. On her TikTok account, Audrée in turn recounts her experience.

Psychiatrist affiliated with the University of British Columbia, Anthony Yeung led a study looking at TikTok videos that discusses ADHD. It was published in 2022 in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. At data collection, in 2021, the keyword “ADHD” was seventh among the most popular health-related topics on the platform.

This surge of videos is undeniably having a positive impact – stories like that of Audrée Archambault bear witness to this. What’s more, girls with ADHD are still largely underdiagnosed. “Doctors say it’s great to have this conversation: people are becoming more aware of this disorder,” says Dr. Anthony Yeung, who agrees. Social networks also allow people to no longer feel alone. »

However, the psychiatrist points out that there is a flip side to this coin: these videos (in part created by people who self-diagnosed) can create a form of anxiety by associating ADHD with normal symptoms that are part of the experience. human. “The challenge with ADHD is that we can all have these symptoms,” says Anthony Yeung. Nothing will prevent people from feeling bored during a meeting or watching a video on YouTube instead of working. »

In his study, half of the 100 TikTok videos analyzed were misleading. The videos put several symptoms in the ADHD basket, he says: having “anxiety chills”, “random noise”, “being competitive”… Others stated, for example, that people with ADHD ADHD are “only understimulated or overstimulated” and “lack of dopamine”. “And everything is said as if it were facts and the truth,” Dr. Yeung said. Someone can spend two hours watching these videos and they will have a very different picture of ADHD than they would have after talking with a doctor for an hour or two. It is as if we were dealing with two different disorders. »

Psychiatrists and psychologists sometimes have the delicate task of telling patients that their symptoms, although they cause real distress, are caused by something other than ADHD.

The first cause that Dr. Yeung thinks of is sleep disorders (which is his specialty, by the way). Symptoms, he says, can present like those of ADHD.

Psychologist and professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Addiction at the University of Montreal, Roger Godbout has seen many children go through the Sleep Clinic. “Children whose sleep is not good [in quantity or quality] are often restless, they do not recognize their turn to speak,” says Roger Godbout. Cognitively, they may have trouble concentrating, foraging from topic to topic…”

To get a clearer idea of ​​the quality of your sleep, Roger Godbout advises filling out a sleep diary for three weeks (examples can be found on the internet). From the age of 7, he says, children are able to talk about their sleep, either in words or in pictures.

Medical problems, such as hypoglycemia, hyperglycemia or thyroid difficulties can also have an effect on attention and activity levels, points out Lily Hechtman, professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at McGill University.

Ditto for… emotions. “Any range of short-term emotions can impact attention span,” says neuropsychologist Marie-Claude Guay, who thinks of anger, sadness associated with bereavement, falling in love… He the same goes for chronically experienced emotions, such as those associated with anxiety and depression.

“Sometimes we see children who have very severe anxiety disorders and who wonder all day if their mother is going to pick them up from school or if she will have an accident. Imagining such catastrophic scenarios will cause attention difficulties, that’s for sure,” says the professor in the psychology department at UQAM.

There is no blood test or brain imaging to diagnose ADHD; evaluation, notes Marie-Claude Guay, involves observing behavior. How to decide between the causes of the symptoms? ADHD, she reminds us, is a neurodevelopmental disorder: its symptoms must date from childhood, be chronic and present in several spheres of life. “It’s important to do a rigorous evaluation,” says the professor.

For Audrée Archambault, in any case, this approach with a neuropsychologist was beneficial.

“Since the diagnosis, I’ve been trying to be gentler with myself,” she concludes.