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Discussing ADHD with non-ADHD people

After my 9 y.o. son was diagnosed with ADHD last summer, I quickly understood that there was no point in discussing this with people around me who never had to deal with ADHD, as they just cannot understand the challenges of raising a child with ADHD. I was happy when I found this group, and a friend of mine who discovered as an adult that he suffers from ADD was of great help when it came to understand how my son feels on a daily basis.
I find it very difficult to have to deal with people who judge, and recently, my own brother had the nerve to tell me that not only was I imagining my son’s problems, I was the cause of them. According to him, my son does not have attention deficit, but suffers from a deficit, or lack of attention from me! Basically he said that my son is the way he is because he needs more attention… not only was this very hurtful, he could not have been more wrong, as my husband and I are always there loving and caring for him the very best we can.
One thing he also said, and I agree with this, is that I need to take care of myself if I want to be able to take care of him. Fine, but to say that ADD is a vague term that medical professionals created to describe a bunch of vague symptoms that do not fit any other medical diagnosis is ignorant and out of line I think.
So I need to know if anyone can provide some insight as to how to deal with non-ADHD people who think that ADHD is a problem created by parents. It’s difficult enough to understand and deal with the situation and challenges of raising a child with ADHD, having to be judged by others only adds to the stress and confusion brought by the situation.
Thanks on advance!

Replies

One thing to do is to inform yourself and be very educated and confident in the knowledge you have about ADHD.

There are plenty of people who don’t believe ADHD is real, and nothing will convince them otherwise.  What they are sharing is their opinion, right or wrong.  You can choose to ignore what they say and not let it push your buttons.

You can reply with something like,
I understand that your don’t believe ADHD is a real neurological disorder that impacts a significant number of children and adults and I acknowledge that this is your opinion. 

Most people who disagree with ADHD issues are not informed of the issues and don’t want to learn. 

You can ask them, “Are you interested in learning more about ADHD and the real impact it has?”  If they say, Yes, then point them to material that will help them understand.  If they say, “No”, just move on, don’t engage in further discussion about ADHD.

Posted by coachwithheart on Jan 02, 2013 at 4:29am

Hi… my daughter was diagnosed at 9 years old, too - that was 13 years ago.  So, I understand where you are at.  I encourage you to attend a CHADD conference - it made all the difference for my husband and me; and will show others how serious you take this and that many professionals attend this conference (you can attend virtually, too).  Also, explain that ADHD was “discovered” a long time ago, but has had different names.  I also encourage you to discuss the facts about ADHD, such as, these kids are developmentally 30% behind their peers, they CAN focus on the things they love, it’s the things they don’t like that are hard, that having ADHD is feels like trying to hit a baseball while holding the bat with one hand, etc.  All the things that are the truth.  Respond with knowledge, resources for them to find info, and that you are doing what is best for you and your son, regardless what other people say.  Maybe it’ll take longer for your son to do what everyone else does, but with your support, and the support of professionals, you will all succeed. (Our daughter met monthly with a Psychologist through high school, continues with medication, and has embraced her uniqueness.)

Posted by Elisabeth274 on Jan 02, 2013 at 4:46am

I’ve had the same experience in trying to explain ADHD to other people. There were people who should have understood it, such as my son’s school counselor and teachers, but there just isn’t enough known about ADHD at the moment. What seems like bad behavior is actually symptomatic of a medical disorder which is hard for other people to understand. Here is one article from the NIMH that explains some of the science behind it:

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/science-news/2007/brain-matures-a-few-years-late-in-adhd-but-follows-normal-pattern.shtml

I’ve heard ADHD described as ‘age-inappropriate behavior’ which explains a lack of impulse control that would be expected at certain ages but is delayed.

I agree with coachwithheart that the best thing to do is to learn as much as you can. When my son’s music instructor argued that my son’s lack of organization and focus was due to lack of motivation I sent him an e-mail link to the CDC. He’d been very unkind to my son. I said that if he’d like to learn more about ADHD it may help him to start there.

Some people will never believe it, never want to believe it, so we just have to advocate regardless and not worry. Try to inform when you can and get the support of others who do understand. It’s always such a relief to be able to talk to other parents struggling with the same issues so at times that’s the best we can do.

Posted by Havebeenthere on Jan 02, 2013 at 9:57am

Many things in the medical world have been questioned to be real, such as headaches, menstrual cramps just to name a few. The more you learn about it, the more comfortable you will become talking about it. Keep in mind there will always be people who are certain ‘it’s all in your head’.
One thing I can tell you is that don’t make an excuse for his bad behavior, due to his difficulty to make good choices. You are not doing him any favors by holding him to a different social standard. I tell my son(who has ADHD) life is just harder for him, but I celebrate his strengths as an athlete. Holding your child accountable, albeit hard, will empower him to feel like this ‘thing’ he can’t control is not controlling him.
Lastly, as you walk through the journey of parenting a child with ADHD, you will get a variety of reactions from people(including teachers). Family members tend to have an amazing ability to be brutally honest at times we are not ready to hear what is being sad. Realize your brother was being insensitive and is ignorant about the subject.

Posted by GotADD on Jan 02, 2013 at 10:55am

It seems to me that your brother has big feelings about ADHD. (Obviously he’s far from alone!) This may be for many reasons, but in the end, he has feelings and they get in the way of him being a support for you.

It’s a drag when our family members can’t be there for us. My brother told me in an email, when we first discovered that our son had been diagnosed with ADHD, that he was absolutely opposed to children taking pharmaceuticals. It’s a fine line to tread telling family (or anyone for that matter) what a heartbreaking situation it can be for everyone involved. Sometimes people have no other way to hear about parents’ distress other than writing them off as over-dramatic, or worse. I guess there aren’t a lot of opportunities in our culture to develop this skill. I didn’t feel I could count on my brother’s support after that—which may or may not be true in reality. It’s a shame, because my brother is a wonderful person and I was not able to find a way to tell him how his statement made me feel.

I don’t have any answers for you. You’ve gotten so many good ones already. I just wish people wouldn’t offer advice when I didn’t ask for it, and if they did, they would ask me what kind of advice I want. Today I would answer like this: “This is all super stressful and overwhelming. I just need an empathetic ear.”
Tomorrow I might say: “Who asked you?” or: “Hey, what are you, the guy designated to beat his sister into a quivering mass of helplessness?”
Anything to make them laugh…maybe a little truth could get in that way…

All the best to you! Thanks for the post.

Posted by Rosemary on Jan 02, 2013 at 11:58am

I hear you and can empathize! 

Just tonight I had a conversation with my cousin (who is a nurse) and it came up.  I mentioned that my son had been diagnosed over the summer and we were working to get his teacher to understand it.  Her response (over and over again) was that this was just normal boy behaviour, and of course my son was just a normal boy.

I *really* wish I’d stopped her and asked “do you actually not believe that ADHD is a real thing or do you not believe the paediatrician that diagnosed him?”  I’d like to have confronted her I guess.

In the end I just sort of nodded and told her the things we were doing to help my son in school.  Plus made a mental note not to ever bring up anything about mental health with her again.

In my experience there are people who understand mental health issues (things you can’t prove physically) and those who just aren’t willing to.  There is an amazingly high percentage of people who just will never see what a struggle mental issues are for some people, whether it’s ADHD or depression or OCD, etc.  They can just “get over it”, so you should be able to as well.

Then with ADHD there’s even more people in that camp… They have preconceived ideas about how it works (“he can sit still to read his book so there’s no way he’s got ADHD”!) or assume it’s something you’ve done (*so* many ADHD traits are *behaviours*!!!)

You’re not going to be able to educate them all.  Pick your battles.  For example, I won’t be bringing up ADHD with this cousin again.  But I *am* working on some material for my son’s teacher.  She is a great teacher, but I’ve realised that she really doesn’t know very much about how ADHD works or how it affects my son.  And she impacts his life directly, my cousin doesn’t.  That’s where I’ll spend my energy.

If your brother was my brother, and he brought it up again, I’d probably be blunt.  It would be something along the lines of him not being a paediatrician… that ADHD is a disorder doctors have been diagnosing for years… that him having ADHD means he still has meet all the same expectations, it just means more work for me as his parent… and that if he’d like to learn more about what ADHD *actually* is (as opposed to his ideas and feelings which are based on _____???), that’d I’d be happy to share a few of the *many* resources I’d read when I researched it.  But that if all he had to say were judgements and idiotic put downs, he could keep his opinions to himself!!  mad

You may want to word it differently.  wink 

But shut him down.  Don’t let him (or anyone else) put you down.  If you’ve researched everything you can about ADHD, and you’re not looking for a magic pill to save you from your parenting responsibilities, then you’re already doing the best thing you can for your son!

Posted by Rai0414 on Jan 02, 2013 at 12:51pm

I almost never try to educate people that don’t ask legitimate, information-seeking questions.

Most questions are really poorly veiled statements.

Posted by Dr. Eric on Jan 02, 2013 at 10:42pm

I almost never try to educate people that don’t ask legitimate, information-seeking questions.

Most questions are really poorly veiled statements.

Posted by Dr. Eric on Jan 02, 2013 at 10:42pm

Seriously, saying ADD is theoretical is like saying Zimbabwe is a theoretical country because I don’t know that much about it.

Posted by YellaRyan on Jan 03, 2013 at 1:12am

I love the Zimbabwe line - I might use that one!!

Thanks!

Posted by mkhc on Jan 03, 2013 at 3:18am

Honestly, unless your brother is directly involved with your DS’s care I would take care of yourself and stop trying to convince him and focus on you and your DS.

You could wrap it all up by saying “Is that your final opinion or are you interested in being educated further about ADHD?” and then explain that you can’t change his opinions and have to get on with your DS’s care and your self care.

Maybe mention that lots of people have opinions that go against science such as climate change denial and not vaccinating and then shrug and walk away.  The more you argue with him, the more uncertain and self judging it will make you feel and you don’t need that.

Posted by Nanay on Jan 04, 2013 at 7:24am

Honestly I would not waste my breath on the non-believers unless it is a teacher or other caregiver because unless they have been around an ADHD child or person and learn about the disorder they will not understand.  I know for example that before my son came along I knew very little about it and would have assumed any behavior shown was by choice and would not have been in favor of medicating a child.  My son has been on Vyvanse for 3 years and is doing well along with a healthy diet, structure and behavior modification.  He is a bit behind in his schoolwork compared to others in his class but we work extra hard to keep him with the class.

Posted by steelerfan500 on Jan 04, 2013 at 11:05pm

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