'It's Only ADHD' and Other Stupid Things People Say

One mom reflects on the many things people say when it comes to her son's ADHD — and asks that others think before they offer parenting advice

I like to believe I am a “people” person, one of those women who gets along with just about everyone. I can handle myself in everything from small talk with the neighbors to deep conversations with longtime friends to understanding when I just need to be a listener. But there is one situation where I am truly at a loss for words and often have to pinch myself back into reality, because my mind has gone to a very dark place where I envision punching, smacking and overall head-bashing the person before me. When I hear, “Well, your son only has ADHD. It’s not like he is dying,” I become that seriously scary mom whom no one wants to encounter. And I find it is getting worse as I get older.

Unless you have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or love someone with ADHD, I’d like to politely ask that you zip it when you find yourself in a discussion about it. Unless you watch someone you love struggle, every single day, to figure out how they fit into this crazy world we live in, unless you live with the “neverending-ness” of ADHD (the movement, singing, messes, missed assignments and appointments, etc.), it would be best for you to just nod. If you must speak, try something like “I can’t imagine.”

People never cease to surprise me with their rudeness (or as they call it, their “wisdom”). I understand many of these people “think” they are helping, providing some golden nugget of information or insight I have missed. They might believe in their heart of hearts that this is the answer to my problems. Let me assure you, I have thought of it. I have most likely tried it (maybe even more than once); I have read about it, talked about it, researched it and lived it.

I’ll be OK if I never hear any of the following “helpful” suggestions/comments/insights:

1. Are you sure it’s ADHD and not just him trying to manipulate you?

Hear me: Yes, I am sure! I have had him tested by a neuropsychiatrist — 12 hours of testing over 10 weeks. I have seen him struggle in school to sit still, to focus, to remember his homework (or pencils, or laptop, etc.). I have seen him go into his room with the sincere intention to clean it, only to come out thrilled that he has found a host of long-lost toys — an hour later. I have seen people repeatedly ask him to stop singing/humming/moving/tapping, only to watch him look at them confused and say, “Stop what?” It’s real, people. Don’t second-guess it.

Oct: Atypical Learners Box —

2. He’s out of control. You just need to (insert inane suggestion here).

This is a favorite! The inane suggestions usually come in the form of:

  • Punish him more
  • Create a schedule and post it
  • Ignore the “bad” behavior
  • Get him into therapy

Punishments don’t work with ADHD. My son’s brain lights up like it’s Christmas, whether the stimulus is good or bad, so getting mad and punishing him are received as a reward in his brain. A schedule cracks me up. Hello? I now have to remind him all the time to read the schedule! Which most likely has moved to the corkboard in his room and is covered in pinholes from the “stickpin Minecraft creeper” he created. Ignoring him is like trying to ignore the urge to go to the bathroom. You can only ignore it for so long before something must be done. Therapy — check. He’s in it, done it, and yes, I do think this helps, but it will not “cure” his ADHD.

3. You just need to let him fail. Then he’ll wake up.

Ahhhh, the “let ’em fail” suggestion is a classic. What people don’t understand is that in his eyes, he is not failing. His world is not built upon the same foundation as mine. Failure to him would be not being able to get his Lego set built correctly; not being able to draw Godzilla perfectly. School is not a failure, it is simply something he is not good at, does not like and really doesn’t care that much about. Messy room? Everything is exactly where he left it, and he can find most things. The things he can’t — ehhh, he’ll find them later. Getting someplace on time: If he’s late, it’s OK, because whatever caused him to be late was the important thing. If where he was going was the important thing, he’d be there on time. ADHD-land is a different world with a different time frame and a different view of failure. I choose to help him more than I do my younger son, in the hopes that repetition, the good feelings that come with getting good grades, and the ease that comes with having things in their place might one day (possibly) sink in and feel better than the chaos he lives in now. But who knows.…

So in closing on this, I only ask that people think before they speak. As I say to my ADHD son all the time, “Just because it’s in your head, doesn’t mean it needs to be said.” 

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