YouTube star Jessica McCabe says she would have "gone off the rails" if she hadn't taken medication to control her attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

McCabe, an American actress whose YouTube channel How to ADHD has 218,000 followers, will speak at Auckland's 2200-seat Victory Convention Centre on Saturday to mark ADHD Awareness Day.

Now 35, she was diagnosed with ADHD aged 12 and is grateful that she was prescribed pills for it.

"Parents get a lot of judgments - 'You shouldn't drug your children,'" she said. "But if my mum hadn't done it, I would have gone off the rails."


Prescriptions for ADHD drugs such as Ritalin and Rubifen have more than doubled in New Zealand from 98,000 in 2005 to more than 200,000 last year.

McCabe says the drugs help her to think more clearly in the same way that her spectacles help her to see or a vitamin supplement helps with her diet.

Jessica McCabe says medication enables her to think clearly. Photo / Supplied
Jessica McCabe says medication enables her to think clearly. Photo / Supplied

"It's like you're not getting enough Vitamin B12. If you take a Vitamin B12 supplement, it doesn't mean you're getting more Vitamin B12 than you need, you use the supplement to get you the amount that you need," she said.

"That's what it feels like for me. My brain doesn't produce the neurotransmitters I need, so the medication boosts that so I can choose to focus on what I want to focus on. I'm not at the mercy of my brain.

"When I go off my medication, I can't think clearly, I can't focus clearly, everything is much more chaotic in my head.

"I'm also more emotional. The emotional dysregulation is another big aspect of ADHD that is not well known. Kids with ADHD have problems managing their emotions. When I started taking medication, that helped a lot with my social life."

McCabe and her husband Edward, who was diagnosed with ADHD aged 35, have created a worldwide online community around their How to ADHD channel. McCabe's TEDx talk has been watched 10 million times on Facebook.

What It's Really Like to Live With ADHD

"I was tired of trying, of putting more effort into life than everyone else and falling farther and farther behind." — Jessica McCabe, How to ADHD

Posted by TED on Wednesday, 18 October 2017

The NZ ADHD Association, which is bringing her here, says ADHD affects 2.5 per cent of NZ children.

In the United States, McCabe says about 10 per cent of children and 5 to 8 per cent of adults have been diagnosed with it.

Jessica McCabe's TEDx talk has been viewed more than 10 million times on Facebook. Photo / Supplied
Jessica McCabe's TEDx talk has been viewed more than 10 million times on Facebook. Photo / Supplied

She says those with the condition can concentrate on things that engage them, such as video games, but might have difficulty concentrating on their homework.

"None out of 10 times, it's not that the child doesn't want to do it," she said.

"It's not that we can't focus at all, it's that we have difficulty regulating our attention."

She said parents and teachers could help by breaking tasks down into small chunks, giving immediate positive feedback and rewards, and allowing children to take frequent breaks in which they could move around rather than sitting still.

"It's really helpful to envisage that you and your child are both trying to figure this out," she said.

"If the parents are, 'Okay, if you're having trouble, that is really helpful, recognising that there are symptoms and there are impairments that get in the way.' That child needs to know someone is on their side."

• Jessica McCabe, Victory Convention Centre, 98 Beaumont St, Auckland, Sat Oct 13, 3pm. Tickets at