I am often asked whether a parent should tell their child that they have ADHD or not following their diagnosis.
I have had discussions with parents who sit firmly on both sides of the fence. Some parents have chosen not to tell their child, relatives or school because of the stigma involved, because they don’t want the child to feel bad about themselves or use it as an excuse.
My husband and I are firmly planted on the other side of the fence – the side of the fence where my children know they have ADHD and they know what this diagnosis means. Discussions about ADHD are commonplace in our house. One of my favourite talks, was when my youngest child, who was six at the time, asked “Mum, I wonder if the doctor will tell me my brain is an ADHD brain or a neurotypical brain.”
Now, I am not here to judge people’s choices about whether they tell their children or not. One of the most powerful lessons that I have learned as a mother to ADHD children is that most parents are trying their absolute best to do what they believe is best for their child. It is no one else’s business but your family and the team of professionals that make up your “ADHD team” in regards to what you decide to do.
However, I wanted to share the reasons why my husband and I chose to tell our children, and talk openly about ADHD with our children and people involved with our family. These are also some of the reasons why I started ADHD Done Differently.
Reason 1: Reducing stigma & fostering acceptance
One of the main reasons we told our children they have ADHD, and that we discuss it so openly in our house is that we want our children to have no stigma attached to having the disorder. I believe both my husband and I are undiagnosed ADHD, my children have diagnosed ADHD, and statistically speaking, their children will also have ADHD. The current research information tells us that ADHD is believed to have an underlying genetic cause. The heritability of ADHD is estimated to be between 60-90%, with an average heritability of 74%.
My children are not ashamed of having ADHD and they don’t see it as a negative. Not too long ago, I was writing a blog post, and my son (11) came up to me and asked “Mum? What’s the chance that my kids will have ADHD?” We discussed that it is almost a certainty and looked at the statistics together.
Thinking my son was going to be disappointed by these statistics, I asked him “What do you think of those odds?” His response floored me. “Oh, I’m so excited. I only know how to have ADHD and I will know exactly what it feels like for my kids growing up with ADHD. Both you and Dad know about ADHD so you will know how to be good grandparents.” He walked off happy and I was amazed. There is no stigma attached to ADHD in our house. ADHD is almost a requirement to be in our family and that is ok. ADHD is not a behavioural disorder, not the result of bad parenting or something that is in their control. They have a neurodevelopmental disorder, that is caused by alterations in the brain’s
structural development, function, interconnectivity and neurotransmitter activity, so why should that have stigma attached to it?
I believe that if I need to hide the fact that my child has ADHD from them, I am contributing the stigma that it is something to be ashamed of or something worth hiding.
Reason 2: Reducing Shame
Shame is prevalent in people with ADHD. Dr Edward Hallowell states that children with ADHD hear approximately 12, 000 more negative messages than their neurotypical peers by the time they are twelve. Children and adolescents aren’t often able to separate negative feedback about their behaviour from who they are as a person. So they then internalise these negative messages, believing that there is something wrong with them. Many people with ADHD strive their whole lives to fulfil the ‘neurotypical mould’ only to feel that they must be fundamentally flawed because they can’t fit.
Around the time my middle child was diagnosed with ADHD (early 2019), she was having an absolute meltdown over having to clean her room. She was screaming, yelling, punching me, kicking me, and calling me names. Once she settled, I offered her a cuddle to talk about the meltdown. She burst into tears and said “Mum, why do I do that? What is wrong with me. I just can’t stop it.”
This led to a great discussion with my daughter about ADHD and the reasons that she reacts the way she does. We always say, “ADHD is not an excuse for poor behaviour. However, it is a reason that behaving appropriately can be difficult.” When we look at it from that viewpoint, it allows us to be strength-based and proactive in scaffolding solutions around the tasks she may find challenging.
This is again, one of the most powerful reasons that we talk openly about ADHD. We can show her that she is not flawed, but there are reasons for the way she acts. It allows It completely takes away the view that there is something “wrong” with her, but she struggles because of the way her brain works. I believe that knowledge about why we act the way we do can be so powerful as a catalyst for change and self-compassion.
Reason 3: Empowerment & strengths focus
ADHD is a condition present across the lifespan. Over 80% of children who have a diagnosis of ADHD do NOT outgrow it. Although the outward characteristics of ADHD may change as a child grows up, they will more than likely still have difficulties with attention, impulsivity, hyperactivity, motivation, and emotional regulation into adulthood.
I want to empower my child now to learn all they can about ADHD. I want to walk beside and support them while they try strategies to support their difficulties, learning with them. I do not want to leave them, wondering why they are struggling with everyday issues that others don’t seem to struggle with.
And on the flip side of this, ADHD often brings with it, gifts of creativity, leadership, athleticism, spontaneity, inventive and divergent thinking. Many famous people have ADHD and some credit having ADHD to their rise to fame and fortune: Actors Jim Carrey, Ryan Gosling, Woody Harrelson, Emma Watson, Channing Tatum, Zooey Deschanel, Henry Winkler, singers Justin Timberlake, Adam Levine and Mel B (aka Scary Spice), Entrepreneurs Richard Branson, Jamie Oliver, Sportspeople Josh Freeman (NFL Quarterback), Michael Phelps and Simone Biles (American gymnast).
Looking back over historical and modern history documents, researchers believe that Leonardo da Vinci, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Mozart, John Lennon and Walt Disney were all thought to have ADHD.
I believe that part of my role as a parent to children with ADHD, is to identify, foster and support these incredible gifts that our children have.
Reason 4: “Allows proactiveness”
I love this last point; as I was chatting with my children about this blog post, my son (11) said that I had to put “it allows proactiveness” (yes I don’t think this is really a word!) as a point. When I asked him what he meant by this, he said that he likes the fact that he can be proactive with his teachers. He spoke about the challenges he faces in the classroom and strategies that his current teacher and he has come up with. He felt that part of knowing about having ADHD can help him learn which strategies work for him and which strategies don’t work. In otherwords, it sets him up for success not failure.
When children know about their ADHD and what it looks like for them, they are able to be proactive in their own life and advocate for themselves. This is something they will more than likely have to do for their entire life, at home, school and work, so why not tell them how their brain works so they can get ADHD Done Differently and let their true self shine!