Understanding the Latinx ADHD Experience

In this blog, we’re collaborating with Izzie Chea (Digital content creator, Latinx ADHD Advocate) to explore the unique barriers and cultural expectations that Latinx individuals with ADHD face, and provide resources to better navigate them.

Understanding the Latinx and ADHD intersectionality

As research catches up on BIPOC communities and mental health, the number of Latinx individuals seeking an ADHD diagnosis is growing. This trend also applies to seeking mental health help more broadly.

But, as history shows, Latinx communities have a long way to go in chipping away at the cultural foundations that perpetuate stigma.

Source: Mental Health America

Symptoms of ADHD including executive dysfunction, emotional dysregulation, task initiation/follow-through problems, misperception of time, and rejection sensitivity dysphoria, contradict expected Latinx cultural norms. These contradictions create “double pressures” that neurodivergent Latinx individuals face, making the journey to acceptance and healing more difficult.

We’ve created this blog post in collaboration with digital content creator, Latinx ADHD advocate, and founder of Accountable Otters Club Izzie Chea (@izzieandadhd).

We’re exploring the unique barriers and cultural expectations that Latinx individuals with ADHD face, and provide some resources to better navigate them.

Remember! Every person’s journey looks different. The barriers and expectations faced by one individual may be either similar or differ to your own. What matters is that we come together and try to understand each person’s experience.

Common barriers to accessing quality care

Latinx communities face several barriers in their ability to access adequate mental healthcare, which include:

  • Cultural barriers: The culturally reproduced stigma that behaviors are within a person’s control (and so it must be that the person needs discipline and motivation) prevent access to mental health intervention
  • Lack of culturally competent providers: The lack of culturally competent providers who understand first-generation immigrants and their families makes it difficult to seek help.
  • Language barriers: Many mental health providers do not provide translation services. Communication in a second language may not be as effective in receiving the right type of care.
  • Distrust in the medical system: A long history of deceit by the US medical system has BIPOC communities on high alert.
  • Racism: Racism still plays a large part in why Latinx individuals do not seek out services, feeling that a provider may dismiss them or not believe them.
  • Past trauma: Digging up past trauma through migration, racism, and physical or mental abuse can be painful and affect daily life.
  • Religion: Strong religious values and customs prevent many Latinx individuals from pursuing alternate forms of support like therapy and medication for mental health.

Cultural pressures at the Latinx and ADHD intersection

Generational Trauma

Generational trauma, or legacy burden, are feelings, emotions, energies and beliefs that can be traced back several generations and transmitted explicitly or implicitly in families. Trauma is absorbed through historical events like genocide and colonization, stripping individuals of centuries of precolonial traditions and ways of life.

How does it show up in the ADHD experience?

Each individual has a different experience and faces unique pressures. Izzie lays out some common ways that generational trauma can influence the Latinx ADHD experience:

  1. Stigma and cultural barriers: Stigma around ADHD can be a result of generational trauma, where past experiences have led to a reluctance to acknowledge or seek help for mental health issues. Consequently, individuals with ADHD may face resistance or denial from their families, making it difficult to access diagnosis and treatment.
  2. Coping mechanisms: To cope with the executive functioning challenges caused by ADHD, Latinx individuals may adapt their coping mechanisms to mimic the behaviors adapted by their family and ancestors. This can often lead to masking and internalization of difficulties to appear “tough”.
  3. Feelings of isolation: Generational trauma may cause Latinx individuals with ADHD to distance from their families and loved ones, as their struggles are not talked about and feel unheard.
“I struggle with the demands and expectations of a being a Latina mom. The pressure to be everything, look great, be polite, and act like I have my life together is exhausting. Sometimes, I don't want to be all "arreglada" and look decent, no matter who comes to visit. But our elders put this pressure on us, and through their sacrifices to get to this country, we feel guilty for our own struggles. Communicating openly about limits and support needs helps.” - Izzie Chea (@izzieandadhd)

Emotional Dysregulation in the Latinx Family

Emotional dysregulation takes center stage in the interactions with family members, giving perceived justification to those who quickly label individuals with ADHD as “locas” (crazy). In Latinx culture, it is more than acceptable to gaslight and write off dysregulated family members as shameful, leading to ostracization and removal from family interaction.

In addition, there is a “chancla” culture that is normalized in Latinx households. “Chancla” refers to the normalized use of violent behavior management/discipline by immigrant or first-gen Latine women/ AFAB, using a sandal or flip flop to hit, beat, or hurt children. In the case of the neurodivergent child, the “chancla” can induce fear and feelings of learned helplessness and hopelessness.

Gender Expectations: Womxn

Marianismo” emphasizes the role of women/AFAB (assigned female at birth) as family- and home-centered. This stereotype characterizes the womxn to be passive, self-sacrificing and to be chastite (Gil & Velazquez, 1996; Niemann, 2004).

A “marianista” orientation depicts women/AFAB in nurturing roles and prescribes respect for patriarchal values. Any deviation from this norm can put pressure on the female-identifying Latine to perpetuate unhealthy gender expectations, including not seeking out help for mental health.

In addition, ADHD daughter/AFAB is expected to cook, clean, learn how to run a household, and take on responsibilities well beyond her age and ability. If any struggles arise during these formative years, ADHD daughters/AFAB are called "chillona (crybaby), floja (lazy), desarreglada (messy), ingrata (ungrateful), and malcriada (bad-mannered).

Gender Expectations: Men

Machismo” is a construct of beliefs, expectations values, and attitudes about masculinity, or what it means to be a man/male. These include dominance, aggression, sexism, sexual prowess, and reserved emotions (other than anger), and are representative of the patriarchal system.

In Latinx culture, a man should be a caballero, where he embodies the characteristics of the male gender role such as chivalry, bravery, and family provider attributes. The appearance of weakness is a direct threat to machismo, and can cause pressure to pile up on the male- identifying/AMAB (assigned male at birth) ADHD Latine, giving rise to mental health suffering in silence.

If a Latine male/AMAB experiences misperception of time, rejection sensitivity dysphoria, or impulsivity, they face heavy criticism. They may be reprimanded at work for being late, not following through on projects and ruminating of negative thoughts leading to emotional outbursts rooted in embarrassment and pain of rejection.

It's always tricky navigating cultural identity and gender expectations as a Latine ADHDer-- executive functioning and misperception of time issues get in the way of what it means to be a woman/AFAB in Latine households; machismo, impulsivity, and anger has its grip on Latine men/AMAB who have so much "provider pressure.” - Izzie Chea (@izzieandadhd)

Izzie’s top exercises to try

Affirmations for your inner child: Take a few minutes to brainstorm a few simple but powerful affirmations you can write for your inner child.

Dear Ancestors: What would you say if you could write a letter to your ancestors?


NAMI Compartiendo Esperanza: Mental Wellness in Hispanic/Latin American Community

Latinx Therapy

Mental Health America’s Resources for Latinx Mental Health

Special thank you to Izzie Chea (@izzeandadhd) for helping co-create this blog, and for being such a strong voice representing the ADHD Latinx community.

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