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Parents of ADHD Children

Lack of Effort, Lack of Caring, Despite Abilities

It seems that we, as parents of ADHD kids, constantly deal with the ever-present issue of our kids’ lack of self-motivation and lack of effort.  I am having a very hard time lately with my son in these areas and I’d love to hear from some of you on this.

He is in 5th grade, and he is very bright, but he won’t work to the level of his abilitites.  Only certain teachers in the past have been able to motivate him, and the effort has been severely lacking for the past year or so.  It has become a huge battle to get him to do homework, and special projects are even more difficult.  It is having a negative affect on our relationship, which has always been very good.

He won 1st place in the science fair a year ago, and he was always willing to work (at least somewhat) for certain teachers, but now he will only make an effort if the subject matter interests him, and he has been known to refuse to do work for his current teachers, even though he likes them a lot and loves his school.

He used to take such pride in being an A-student, and he was proud of the fact that he was a smart kid.  He has gone from that to not seeming to care about his school work at all, and his grades are all over the map.  He doesn’t seem to care, for instance, that he got a D on his math homework last night or that he has more unsatisfactory marks on his progress report than satisfactory ones.

I don’t get mad at him when his grades fall, but rather try to encourage him and tell him we’ll figure out what the problem is so he can get back on track, but he just will NOT try at all.  Not at all.  It is the most frustrating thing.  He can offer no explanation as to what might be bothering him, so that’s not it.  He just doesn’t want to try at anything, and the fact that he is refusing to do things the teachers ask really has me worried.

He read 15 difficult books over the summer and gave me a verbal report on each one, so I know he reads well.  However, when the school tested his reading aptitude, he came out below grade level and got most of the comprehension questions wrong.  He used to be an ace at math, but now those skills are also testing below grade level. When he does his math at home, he flies through it and does okay, but he fails at it or just daydreams at school when it comes time to do the work, so they think he’s not good at math. It’s mind boggling.

He is sinking and I don’t know what to do about it!!!  I am trying to get him approved for an IEP, but we’ll see what the school board says after they test him, which should be in a couple weeks.  He has a 504, but getting them to make more accommodations is a subject for another post.

I’m just looking for ideas on how to motivate him and looking to commiserate with parents who are also struggling with this issue of effort and motivation.  I’ve tried rewards, taking away privileges if certain standards aren’t met, etc., and nothing is working.  He just doesn’t seem to care, yet he does have certain apirations for his life, like wanting to be an engineer.

I need ideas. :(


Oh my!  My son is in 5th grade this year, and this sound so much like him!  It is exasperating!  We have not gotten to the point you’re at, but I fear we will get there in middle school. What type of rewards have you offered.  I’m told that there should be short term rewards and longer term rewards.  Have you asked him to write down a list of possible rewards so that you’re sure he is working towards something he is really interested in?  I’m sorry I have no advice, but I am very curious to hear what others have to say.

Posted by daileyam on Oct 30, 2013 at 10:52pm

You’re not alone!  This is exactly like my son, also in the 5th grade, except he also has ODD.  This year is the first year he’s flat out refused to do things he’s asked at school and his grades reflect it.  The school took the initiative on this one and has begun an FBA (Functional Behavior Assessment) which falls somewhere under the IEP program from my understanding.  I’m hoping this provides some answers because I’m at a loss.

Posted by awilliams121 on Oct 30, 2013 at 10:54pm

I will have to ask about the FBA.  Could be something to ask for.

I’ve tried both short- and long-term rewards.  The only thing he’ll work for are new video games. LOL.  But even that only works sometimes.  I just don’t get the total lack of caring when he does like a lot of subjects and it DOES bother him that his grades are suffering.  He doesn’t want it to be this way, but he just can’t or won’t make any effort. 

I appreciate the comments so far, and I’ll be checking back often!  Thanks.

Posted by JAMurphy on Oct 30, 2013 at 11:22pm

Have you thought about therapy to find out what is causing this?

Posted by cmullen17 on Oct 31, 2013 at 12:17am

I hear your pain and wondering if some of this is a phase. I do know that because my 5th grade son is on a medium dose of medicine (which does work for him with the focusing component), he unfortunately has no appetite (we’ll allow him to eat when he can) plus he also has disrupted sleep usually around 11:30 - midnight…ughhh…so he is cranky most mornings.  I truly feel for him and think a lot of this symptomatic stuff is due to sleep deprivation and hunger (which unfortunatley his brain doesn’t think he has an appetite because of this medicine).  We’ve tried intuniv to offset this but he unfortunately had an adverse reaction.  I’m at my whits end and it too is affecting his relationship with each of the family members.  it’s a double edge sword as he is thriving and doing well in school and we couldn’t be happier but do we sacrifice that for an unhappy disjointed family due to the emotional component which is the side effects of the medicine and puberty beginning?  i’m seriously ready to take him off of the medicine however then we will still have the focusing component to contend with and that can have major emotional issues.  Considering a behavioral therapist but then that will inflate his frustrations to ‘just wanting to be a normal child’ (i don’t blame him and have tried to work with explaining the pro’s and con’s and this would be very helpful - he’s not seeing it that way and now we just get attitude and tears.  ; (

Posted by cak on Oct 31, 2013 at 12:36am

@cmullen17 - Yes, good suggestion.  He has had therapy in the past, which I set up as a precautionary measure to offset the ADD/social immaturity issues, but for the past few years the therapists said he seemed well adjusted and there was nothing really happening out of the ordinary with him.  That was before the lack of effort got really bad though, so I think you’re right that maybe NOW is the time he needs some therapy.  I guess that will be next.  We’re seeing an OT now for some dyspraxia issues.  Thanks.

Posted by JAMurphy on Oct 31, 2013 at 3:26am


My son, also 5th grade, has the same apathy about school. He is also gifted and capable of so much more than he produces. I feel like the ADHD prevents him from meeting his true intellectual potential. But I have resolved that that’s ok. I don’t expect As or even As and Bs—I take the grades as they come. I do ensure he does his homework, but I don’t check his work for accuracy. I have come to accept that I am going to have to let him stumble so he can determine the amount of effort it takes to realize HIS goals.

You say your son is not doing as well in certain subjects as he used to—math and reading comprehension. That work is getting tougher. In math, there are now multiple steps to solving problems and some amount of planning and organization is required. In reading comprehension, they are now required to think things through and make inferences, rather than just tell you where the main character lives. Unfortunately, the increase in difficulty comes into play in areas like executive functioning where kids with ADHD struggle.

ADDconnect Moderator & Mom to Tween Boy with ADHD and LDs

Posted by adhdmomma on Oct 31, 2013 at 6:27pm

I like your attitude, JAMurphy.  I hope I can get there myself with our son.  He is also gifted with ADHD.  It’s so sad to see all the potential not being used.  I also think your last paragraph is dead on.  Math, except for math facts, has always been easy for our son, but this year he is giving up quickly on the multi-step problems.  Executive function issues for sure.

Posted by daileyam on Oct 31, 2013 at 6:52pm

Thanks for that, daileyam.  It takes a long time to get to the level of acceptance, and, even then, it’s still hard.  You start to realize that some things are just not possible for these kids, or at least not using traditional means.  You have to get creative, you have to become more accepting of the deficiencies that go along with ADHD and you try to find your child’s strengths. That’s not to say that it still doesn’t frustrate you as a parent, but you accept things and work around them.  For me, the difficulties hurt me even more now because I see what hurts my son, and that kills me.  I cry a lot still because it’s frustrating and it still feels like so many things are slipping from my son’s grasp because of the difficulties and it just seems so unfair sometimes.

But, as I said, you look for the positives and try to find ways to help your child succeed.  If you are lucky, you’ll have a school system that will also help you.  Right now I have a school that does just the opposite, and that really makes it hard.

This site is great for support, that’s for sure! smile

Posted by JAMurphy on Oct 31, 2013 at 7:09pm

I’m lucky that my two children don’t have adhd, and they’re all grown up now.  But if they did have adhd, with my knowledge about it, I would try the Neurofeedback and put them on a gluten free, almost meat free diet, no sugar and some very good quality vitamins.  I would never even try any medications on my kids, I seen first hand what it did to my nephew when the doctor took him off his Ritalin cold turkey after he graduated high school.  Terrible withdrawal and addiction issues.  He’s in his mid thirties and still has addiction issues. He was a zombie as a child, he couldn’t sleep or eat for 10 years it seems, as an adult he is very short and child like.
Just my opinion, we are all different and everyone reacts differently to medications and life situations.  Wishing you the best in your decisions

Posted by BexIssues on Nov 01, 2013 at 4:37am

How sad and all I can do is suggest some things that have worked.

Have you tried some tutoring, that would take the load off you and could help your relationship.  I believe children want to do well when they can.  He may struggling with some skills and may feel discouraged.  Not trying may be easier to face than trying and failing. Possibly having him tested could
reveal what skills he needs to work on.

Possibly he’s had a growth spurt and his medication needs adjustment.  Also the book “Smart but Scattered” by Dawson and Guare is helpful in dealing with various executive function weaknesses.

A private school with smaller classes may work better for your son. 

Hopefully you’ll find something that will help your son.

Posted by Lande on Nov 01, 2013 at 6:04am

Perhaps you could get some ideas from the book:  “Smart but Scattered” by Peg Dawson.  There are 2 versions, one for children and adolescents, and one for teens.  I have found that book to be very helpful in giving us ideas of how to help our 11 year old daughter.

Posted by Wynka on Nov 24, 2013 at 7:00pm

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