10 Things Your ADHD Kid Wants You to Know
Updated: Aug 29, 2022
by Megan Buck
Before we begin, let the record show that I'm 30 and was just diagnosed with ADHD in January of this year (2022). My parents and I struggled immensely when I was growing up and I can't help but feel called to share what I wish my parents knew when I was growing up as well as sharing what my current clients wish their guardians knew.
The purpose of this list is to not only educate adults working with kids with ADHD but also to hopefully help kids with ADHD communicate with their guardians about what they're struggling with and what kind of support they need.
Because these are based on my own experiences and the experiences of my clients, they don’t represent the totality of the ADHD experience - but they do illuminate a really important perspective that I hope is helpful to you and your child.
1. This is a serious condition; I can't just “power through it.”
ADHD is recognized by the CDC as a neurodevelopmental disorder and has been diagnosed and researched since the early 1900s. If you're new to ADHD as a disorder, check out this CDC fact sheet here. ADHD impacts executive function in such a way that "powering through" isn't an option. Struggling with task implementation, sustained attention, and self-regulation impact so many decision-making processes that sometimes "stuck" is all we can manage.
2. It's more than just "not being able to focus."
ADHD is commonly labeled as a struggle with physical hyperactivity and with an inability to focus on any given thing. But trust me, adults, it's more than just that. Sometimes it's focusing on too many things, sometimes it's focusing on the “wrong” thing, or sometimes it’s focusing on the interesting thing rather than the important thing. Just because we aren't focusing on what you want us to focus on doesn't mean we aren't focusing.
3. I'm not going to grow out of it.
As someone who's had ADHD my whole life and was just diagnosed at 30, trust me when I say this isn't something that your kid is going to grow out of. It's a lifetime process of figuring out what does and doesn't work. If we struggle with it as a kid, and it's endearing and cute, we'll struggle with it in middle school when you expect us to be able to handle it on our own. It's something that we continuously have to troubleshoot and brainstorm, so please, please, please be patient with us as we try to figure it out.
4. I wish you believed me instead of pushing me outside of my limits.
I know it's hard to believe that your child has limits because we always want what’s best for them and for them to reach their "full potential" (guardians, adults, parents, please stop telling us you want us to reach our full potential… all it does is make us feel miserable), but ADHD does in fact present limits that have to be worked through or worked around, and grit alone isn't enough to get through.
Neurotypical brains will often see a problem, think about some workarounds, and experiment to try it out. An ADHD brain can see a problem and freeze - stuck in the wondering of what do I do next if I haven't done this before, what if I fail, what if I do it wrong, what if I can't do it the way I was told to do it (see this article on Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria)… let's do this other thing that's easier that I know I can do and then I'll come back to it…. later. Sound familiar?
This is why chunking and small steps are the most important thing when working with ADHD brains. We need small tasks that we know we can do in order to complete the whole thing.
5. I wish you understood what executive function actually meant.
Parents and guardians, there is no magic paper planner that's going to get me to turn my assignments in on time. There is no magic app that's going to get me to remember all of my homework and daily tasks.
I hate to break it to you, but just because reminders work for you, doesn't mean they'll work for your kid. Trust me.
It's trial and error to figure out which tools will work for the different areas of executive function for your kiddo. Again, this goes back to what's interesting vs. important - if I can organize my Minecraft inventory, then, of course, I can organize my school supplies… it just has to be done in the same way using that same system.
Please don't make me organize the way that you do. I can get organized, but it needs to be with a system that works for me. Organization doesn’t just look one way. Help me tap into my strengths instead of talking about how I don’t follow your preferred system.
6. Just because it looks like I’m being “lazy” doesn't mean I am.
If I had a nickel for every time my parents told me to "just do it, it's not that hard!", I'd probably give Jeff Bezos a run for his money. The stuck feeling of ADHD is one of the worst sensations.
The best way I can explain it is through movie reference -- as any great ADHD brain can do. In Titanic when the ship starts going down, there are people fighting to get to lifeboats (neurotypicals) and there are people who are frozen in panic, watching the ship go down, knowing that there are a bunch of ways to move but unable to make a choice that could save their life, because what if it isn't enough and whatifthereisn'tenoughtimeandwhatifIdon'tdoitright.
That's what the "stuck" or "lazy" feels like when we aren't able to move forward and sometimes all we can do is the thing that gives us dopamine easily - what some people might notice as distractions. Is this the best coping skill? Nope, but is it the easiest? Yep. But that's why point #8 in here is so important!
7. Your executive function is different from mine.
The neurotypical brain will go through a developmental process of executive function skill building that naturally progresses over time. In the neurodivergent brain, they're impacted by not only the 5 senses but also by 3 others that aren't as commonly talked about – proprioception, vestibular processing, and interoception. For example, let's say we're sitting down at the table to play a new game and you, the parent, are giving me, the neurodivergent, the instructions for the first time.
I'm not only focusing on what you're saying, but I'm also trying to make sure that when I swing my legs I'm not hitting the table (or I'm not noticing and still haven't registered that it hurts because I haven't realized I'm hitting the table yet), I'm also trying to make sure that I don't swing my legs too hard so I don't fall out of my chair but I need the movement in order to hear you clearly, but then do I need to swing my legs because I need to in order to hear you or because I actually have to pee and haven't realized it yet? Wait, what were the instructions again? The ADHD brain is doing a lot all at once in conjunction with balancing out 3 senses that we barely have language for. So again, please, please be patient with us.
8. Positive reinforcement works so much better than punishments.
ADHD brains have a high comorbidity rate with anxiety, depression, and RSD among other things that can impact emotional regulation or stress management.
Punishments can exacerbate these symptoms and create more situations where shutting down or freezing becomes the only way forward.
When our successes and strengths are celebrated and encouraged, our brain gets a boost of dopamine and wants to do it again (reasons why we love playing the games we keep winning).
9. I need co-regulating support.
Our ADHD brains struggle with emotional regulation, self-monitoring, and self-regulation. All of these executive function skills impact the ability to execute any and all steps of every process we try to execute.
Our brains also are professionals at making mountains out of molehills, so when we're in the middle of an outburst, the last thing we need is more energy feeding into it.
We need help co-regulating our emotions and brains in ways that might not make sense. We can't always control the impulsive emotions that spiral with blowout conversations and need support managing it.
This can look like parents modeling how to manage big emotions or kids participating in support groups, therapy, or trying medication under the guidance of a doctor. There are many different ways to learn about self-regulation; the important part is that it's right for your child and your family.
10. I'm not trying to give you a hard time, I'm just having a hard time.
Everything on this list is constantly going through our heads without the language to communicate it effectively. If we aren't given the tools that we need in order to function appropriately, then we'll continue having a hard time.
Remember the terrible two's, when we had big feelings and no ability to communicate? It will continue happening until we get the resources we need. We don't want to give you a hard time, but we're having a really hard time navigating in a world that wasn't build to suit the way our brains work best.
Please help us have an easier time by focusing on my amazing strengths and my curious mind - while also having patience for the ways my brain may work differently.
Want to learn more about how you can understand your child's ADHD brain? Come join us at our parent and caregiver workshop!