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Parenting Your Young ADHD Adult to Success

As a parent of a young adult with ADHD, I know just how much most parents must be involved in their ADHDer’s life to help them succeed. Throughout childhood and adolescence, your ADHD son or daughter has had to lean on you to make decisions, get organized and manage life’s complications.  As a result, when your child has ADHD, you continue to exercise a lot of influence in her life much longer than most parents, often far beyond her teen years.

Then They Pull Away

And then one day, she begins to pull away, wanting more autonomy.  Normal, yes, but this can be a very distressing time for you.  Every parent feels a twinge of rejection, but it may be worse when your child has ADHD.  Most parents worry about the decisions their adult child will make, and since your ADHDer has needed your involvement more than most, you worry even more.  How is she going to manage college or university on her own?

Normal, Not Easy

First, let me reassure you.  Your son or daughter’s desire for autonomy is normal and healthy; it’s not a reflection of their feelings for you.  They are not rejecting you, they are embracing their own independence, albeit sometimes awkwardly.  Of course, you struggle with your desire to protect them from that big bad world out there, while at the same time, wanting desperately for them to spread their wings and fly on their own.

Life Lessons by Any Other Name

However, despite your ADHDer’s desire to make her own decisions, she is not transformed into a good decision-maker, organizer or time manager overnight.  You fear she’ll make mistakes (News flash! She will!) as she learns to think for herself, or worse, rather than thinking for herself, she’ll seek “help” with her decisions, so that rather than thinking for herself, she’ll resort to the wrong help and potentially jeopardize her chances of success at school, at work, in life.

This is especially true if your child is pursuing higher education.  As they prepare to begin their post-secondary education, this is often the first time young adults face decisions that can significantly alter their life path.  Here are seven strategies to help your ADHD adult child on the road to independence.

Seven Strategies to Help Your ADHD Child Succeed

Strategy #1:  Keep the lines of communication open.  Make her understand she can discuss anything with you, and the best way you can make sure they understand this is by demonstrating that you are a good listener (not a lecturer!)  Ask non-leading, non-judgmental questions that help her clarify her decision.

Strategy #2: Declare (and demonstrate) your intent to encourage and respect her independence. Be available to discuss things with her if she needs to, and when you are discussing things, also understand that you are NOT always right.  Your beliefs may not be her beliefs.

Strategy #3: Treat her like the adult she is becoming. Have adult conversations with her, ask her opinion about current events or other topics she is interested in, and engage in activities together as two adults rather than parent and child.  Children with ADHD often lag behind their peers in maturity and suffer rejection because of it.  However, this often leaves them with fewer mature roles models whose behavior they can emulate.  You can provide that example.

Strategy #4: Help her make decisions without trying to influence them. When she does come to you for help making decisions, don’t step in to make the decision for them, don’t even try to influence their decision.  Ask questions that allow her to notice blind spots she may have in her thinking.  And unless the object of the decision is illegal, unethical, immoral, support it.  If it is a decision where you KNOW the outcome will have a HUGE impact on her life, ask if you can present your views, and then, with permission, make your case and then support her, regardless of the decision she makes.

Strategy # 5: Seek out specialized ADHD help and training. ADHDers usually need a different approach to things like managing time and getting organized.  ADHD coaches are trained to help ADHDers effectively plan their lives, get organized, manage their finances, use effective study skills and learning strategies, become better at self-advocacy and make better decisions.  Unlike you, a coach is not emotionally attached to the results and so won’t force a decision one way or the other. Coaching is meant to empower your ADHD son or daughter, not make them more dependent.

Strategy #6: Help your ADHD adult become their own advocate. Speaking of empowerment, give your ADHD adult the information she needs and encourage her to make her own calls for appointments, make her own requests for accommodations and so on.  Yes, you may need to sit beside her on her first call, but with practice, she’ll be able to make it on her own.

Strategy #7: Celebrate every success! Celebrate each step toward independence, each happy result, each effort made toward her goals.  Be on the lookout for and notice anything she does well.  Helping your ADHD son or daughter make it on his or her own is an important part of your role as a parent.  When a decision does not provide the desired results, help her see the lessons learned.

Challenges… and Rewards

Being a parent has its challenges, but being the parent of an adult with ADHD can make it even more challenging. Remember that regardless the direction she takes in life, you want to come out the other side of this period of transition with your relationship intact, changed, yes, but strong and loving.

If your relationship is strained because you don’t see eye to eye, it may be time to bring in an ADHD-trained neutral third party, leaving you to play a (perhaps more comfortable) supportive role in her quest for autonomy.  The reward, and your ultimate objective (the objective of every parent), is for your child to have a happy life doing something they love.

12 Comments
  1. My son is 22 yrs old and has lived on his own since he was 18 years old. He is a survivor. He is intelligent, creative and funny. He is also not learning from any mistakes he has made along the way and he is currently at rock bottom. I have thought he has hit rock bottom many times before! He has no driver’s license, no job, no phone. He has plans to go to college(I’m not sure if his dog he took in which is now pregnant will be going to school with him), he currently lives in a home with other unemployed people that they will soon be evicted from because it is in foreclosure….YES. I gave him calm, unemotional advice and had to sit by and watch it turn out as I thought…without saying anything negative such as : ” I told you not to get a pet! I told you not to move into that house! I told you what number to call and get financial aide forms completed! Ugh. My son needs help. Why doesn’t Big Brothers Association end at 25 years for ADHD children! if I could find a mentoring program to house, work and educate my son I know his quality of life would improve. I know he wants to say he made it. His life has been rough( that’s another story).

    • Hi Carol,

      Sorry for taking so long to answer. I’ve struggled with finding an answer or some ounce of wisdom for you to ease your pain but I realize that I don’t have the answers. My daughter, now 26 years old, also struggles with ADHD (and learning disabilities) and has suffered a lot. She’s got this knee-jerk reaction to advice as meaning she’s not capable and resists EVERY BIT of uninvited advice. When our children become adults it’s normal for them to want to be independent from us. As a parent of an ADHD adult, we know our children, with all their baggage of failures and major challenges, are not always equipped to deal with the big world yet.

      What I know has helped was to make her see that asking for advice or help when you’re doing something for the first time is normal – not just an ADD thing and not just a Her thing. When her sister, who is a very capable adult who doesn’t have ADHD, left home, she called me often for advice or to ask me to act as a sounding board, asking questions to help her clarify what she was struggling with. Our kids still have some growing up to do but they don’t know it and because past failures has made them very sensitive, they tend to see any comment about their living situation as a judgment. So as one mother of an ADHD adult to another, all I can say, is here are a few things that have worked for me. I hope you’ll find some helpful.

      * I notice the progress first and focus more on that. (Wow! you were on time with your rent this month! Excellent!)

      * I might even ask her how she managed to make it happen.

      * I avoid judging her situation. We often think our kid has hit rock bottom not realizing that they are a lot more resilient than we thought. They may have hit OUR rock-bottom, but not theirs.

      * I avoid giving advice, instead I use a coach approach and ask questions about how she feels she can handle a situation.

      * I’ve told her how I feel that it’s courageous of her to want to break out on her own and how I want to have an adult relationship with her.

      * When advice would be helpful, I’ll state the issue (I’m noticing you’re struggling with…) and ask if she would like my advice on how she could handle it (I’ve struggled with something just like it, would you want to know how I handled it? It might help her find a solutions). I make sure she knows there are no strings attached with that advice; she can take it or leave it. And in fact, she may want to ask other people who’ve successfully managed the issue she’s having (who else could you ask who’s been successful dealing with this type of situation?).

      * When I’m feeling like she’s hitting rock bottom, I tell her how freaked out I would be if I were in her place (I’m impressed with how you seem to be handling this situation, I know I’d be so freaked out if it were me) and ask her, how she manages to handle it.

      I don’t pretend to know everything about parenting my adult daughter with ADHD, I just hope that some of the strategies that work for me could inspire you. I’m sure there are other strategies that can help. I invite all parents of ADHD adults to offer their words of wisdom here.

  2. Hi Linda, I came across your website and the very thoughtful reply you gave to Carol (by coincidence also my name!) My son is about to turn 20, lives at home and is about to start his 2nd year in college. My concern/question involves alcohol and drug abuse. We’ve had frequent problems with both for the past 4-5 years. His freshman year in college went pretty well, because he was dating a girl who is a serious student. She kept him on the straight and narrow–but they recently broke up, and now he is staying out late every night and clearly doing a lot of drinking and pot smoking. It’s shocking how much this changes his behavior. He is completely scattered, doesn’t seem able to handle even simple tasks or conversations. Honestly I don’t think he is in any shape to attend college .. BUT, the big problem is, we are US citizens living abroad, and he doesn’t have the legal right to remain here if he’s not enrolled in college. If he can get through one more year of school he would qualify for citizenship. Of course I have tried talking to him, asking if I could help him develop a strategy/get support to complete his second year, but he is totally dismissive. In the past he has been to therapists and had an ADD coach from the Edge Foundation for a time — none of this helped much, because he lied to all of them. I also put him into a 30-day inpatient drug program a few years ago after he was thrown out of school for pot smoking, but afterward he immediately resumed his old behaviors. I myself attend Alanon and have gotten a lot of support there, but their advice is simply to “let go” and let him suffer the consequences. I am just wondering whether you agree with this or can think of any other avenues to pursue. Thank you!

    • Hi Carolm, It sounds like you have done everything to help him. As I read your story, my first thought is, he may be self medicating. You don’t speak of him following any ADHD medications treatment. It’s always a bit of a catch 22 when it comes to ADHD medications, especially for someone who exhibits addictive tendencies. When I first started to practice, many of my clients were newly diagnosed adults and almost everyone of them confided that they were using illicit drugs, most of them used pot but some also used cocaine. Once they were diagnosed, most of those who began to take ADHD meds, either stopped or reduced the amount of street drugs they were using. It turns out they had been self-medicating to “calm their brain”. I’m not sure if this could be an issue here.

      As for letting go, it is often the only thing to do for his own good. Until your son hits rock bottom, he will not be motivated to improve. Obviously, the love of a girlfriend seems to have motivated him in the past, but you can’t control that sort of thing and it’s a huge burden to put on one person to be responsible for her boyfriend’s behavior. People usually seek help when they are motivated to strive for something they really want or when they hit rock bottom and their lives are a mess. I can only imagine what you are going through. I’m glad to hear you’re taking care of yourself through alanon.

      Often, the more we help, the more we hurt our loved ones because we prevent them from realizing they need help. And you can’t change what you don’t see as a problem.

      I wish you courage and support.

      Let him know that you are there for him but only when he decides to

  3. Hi Linda, thanks very much for your prompt and very thoughtful reply. To answer your question about self-medication, my son was prescribed Concerta while in high school and it greatly improved his concentration in class. However, as soon as he started smoking pot, his concentration diminished and his grades suffered. When he got to college he said he didn’t want to take Concerta any more, said it didn’t help him. I do think you are probably right that I need to step back and let him hit bottom, even if that will be difficult to watch. Thanks again!

  4. Hi Linda,

    My 20 year-old son just received his ADD diagnosis over the holiday break after a disappointing turn in college this semester. We had no idea he was dealing with this challenge for the first year and a half of college. He is very bright but is hesitant to ask for help at the university. I contacted the disability resource center and am waiting a return call. Any suggestions in starting the relationship with this resource?

    • Hi Christie,

      So sorry for the delay in answering. First, when dealing with the college’s disability resource center, you’ll need a proof that he needs special accommodations. Be specific about the challenges he is having and request accommodations for these. For example, if he struggles to focus to read during exams, he can be placed in a quiet area and be given more time (usually 1.5 X the regular allotted time). In some cases, he can ask for a reader. The point is to know what the specific challenge is, and target those accommodations.

      Also, it is important to recognize that accommodations are not special privileges – your son needs to understand this especially – no, accommodations level the playing field so that he has as much opportunity (not more) to succeed than his colleagues without ADHD or LD.

      I wish you and your son much success.

  5. Our son is 24 yrs old and was diagnosed with ADD when he was 20. He does have an Electrical Engineering degree. Once out of college, he got a job teaching Math at a Math tutoring company. He loved it, but the pay was not good. The owners wanted him to run one of their new franchises. But he had an opportunity being a Process Engineer. The commute was 1 hour one way. At the time, he lived at home. There were many mornings he didn’t hear his alarm go off. My husband or myself would wake him up. One time I didn’t wake him up as I had had it. Wouldn’t you know, he missed a meeting his boss wanted him to be in charge of since he didn’t hear his one of three alarms go off. I was furious l!!

    He ended up getting an apartment closer to work. But a month ago, after working there for 16 months, they let him go right there on the spot. It was totally unexpected as he had just received a raise and job evaluation.

    Since then, he says he has been applying for jobs. He is not good with his money. He receives a few overdraft statements every month which costs him $12 a pop. . He just asked his girlfriends dad if he had his blessing for marrying his daughter. So I know he wants to purchase a ring. His bank accounts are in my husbands name as well as our sons. Last week my husband opened up his bank statement. There were $560 worth of charges made to iTunes. This really upsets us as we have been paying his car loan since he lost his job. Now I don’t want to help him with his car loan since he is not being financially responsible.

    My husbands company wants him to work for them temporarily but it could turn into permanent position. So waiting to see when he starts working.

    In the meantime, he says he has applied for jobs but I don’t know how much time he has put into it. When he lived at home and every night after dinner, all he did in his spare time was game on his computer. Once my husband and I tried to put up boundaries with his gaming. Last summer we even removed the router but our son figured out how to play anyway. I truly believe he is addicted to gaming. But he doesn’t see it that way. Now him and his roommate (whom also just lost his job) play the new Pokemon Go every afternoon. This infuriates me to no end.

    I have many concerns and questions. First, he is running out of money. His lease is up at the end of August. I love him dearly but I don’t want him moving back home. It is too stressful with his gaming. If he didn’t do so much gaming, I would welcome him with open arms. But I can’t.

    I don’t want to be his alarm clock anymore. Once he starts working at my husbands place of employment, I am fearful that he won’t make it to work on time. I don’t want my husband embarrassed. I’m just fearful.

    I feel guilty that he has a student loan. He is still on our insurance which is fine. But his meds cost $210 a month. So that is why we are helping him financially

    Are we wrong in paying his car note?
    How do we set boundaries if he has to move back home? In the past, he has not abided by our boundaries.
    He really hasn’t gotten his jobs by him looking. The Math job I found in the paper for him. The Engin job he got thru an employment agency that my husband has used before. I feel like we are helping him too much in his employment search.

    I will admit that I am an enabler. It is hard for me to see him suffer.

    Another thing I am fearful of is his loosing his girlfriend because of his ADD and his lack of focus. He really doesn’t have much money to buy an engagement ring. I fear she will get tired of waiting for him to put a ring on her finger. She has an excellent job as a nurse. She is very good with her finances.

    Sorry for the lengthly comments. I just need some help navigating through all of this. I feel since he was diagnosed at 20 instead of early childhood, he hasn’t learned how to cope well with his ADD??

    Thank you for any comments.

    • Hi Lynn, I am just back from sick leave after having had surgery at the end of July.

      Your comment is a lengthy one and, like any other professional, it’s virtually impossible for me to comment on what you should or should not do. If your son is working hard at improving his life by looking for work, getting help with MANAGING his own finances, keeping his apartment in reasonable shape, but may still need your help, you may need to help him get organized to get a job, find an ADHD coach, or make arrangements with your local employment agency to help him. Ideally, you gradually increase the responsibilities he takes on and slowly withdraw your financial help (give him some notice so that he can do what it takes to take on the responsibility). Where I would interfere, if you want to help, is to provide what he needs to become more independent, such as a Sonic Boom alarm with vibration piece for waking in the morning. You might want to pay for his medications directly. You can also get a Sonic boom alarm with vibrator to help him wake up. His issues with waking are likely due to late nights so going to bed early enough to get 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep, will help.

      Firmly ask that he refrain from gaming during “business hours” when he should be looking for work – his job right now should be to look for work. Request that he produce a list of the steps he has taken each day to actively find work as a condition to you helping him. If he refuses or can’t seem to get away from the gaming during the daytime, ask that he contact Gamblers Anonymous or Online Gamers Anonymous – Olganon (http://www.olganon.org/olgarolg-anon-schedule-meetings).

      If he refuses, then you need to remove financial support. Yes he will get kicked out of his apartment, lose his car, and you have to let him know that he cannot come back home if he is not showing signs of wanting to take things into his own hands. He may genuinely need help and I would suggest you find help with social services in his area, but you need to let him “fall on his face”.

      Unfortunately, many ADHDers need to hit rock bottom before they turn their life around. As a parent, it is the most difficult thing the watch, but as long as you help him financially, he will come to rely on you and never seek the help he needs. If needed, pay for his medications and only for that.

      The fact that he found out at 20 (4 years ago) makes no difference. I’m not sure things would necessarily have been different. I have clients who find out at 50 and 60, even at 70, and while it would have been better to know early and have had earlier interventions, as life changes and gets more complicated, most ADHDers need help through those life transitions, such as starting their work life.

      As for getting married, he is clearly not ready to do so and his girlfriend would be foolish to accept his proposal if he doesn’t shape up.

  6. Reading all your comments give me some amount of comfort because it makes me realize I’m not alone. We had 4 children, the first 3 graduated and have happy families of their own. Our youngest now 25 was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 22, after failing a semester at college. He got his meds regulated, attends counseling twice a month, and was about to finish his program which would have resulted in a BS degree and a career in the medical field. The very last day of his final year, he couldn’t bring himself to ask for a signature on his forms and forged the signatures. Of course that was discovered immediately, and he was dismissed from his program. He is devastated and looks back on all his hard work and feels like a failure. He has over 200 credits, A’s in most classes including physics, math, chemistry and his medical courses. But asking someone to sign a paper was too painful for him. As a result he received an F for the entire term bringing down his GPA and he may even be dismissed from the university.

    The heartbreak is more than I can take. He worked so hard, and I worked so hard reminding him to complete assignments, wake up on time, take showers, develop grooming habit and helping him learn life skills. His IQ is over 145, and yet he found the worse solution for a problem he had. Socially he finds talking to people very difficult. He has never dated, although everyone says he is very handsome and physically fit. He still lives at home, so he’s not homeless, but we are getting old and this is a bigger setback than we can take. It consumes every moment of our thoughts.

    I am wondering where to begin to find an ADHD coach. I never heard of that before, and would really appreciate some direction to find hope for our son.

    • Try at http://www.addca.com and http://www.add.org

      ADDA (add.org) has a professional directory of coaches. You want to make sure they are ADHD trained. Your story is incredibly sad. I can’t believe the school destroyed his life for one stupid mistake. Is there anyway to pursue that avenue, maybe with legal help. It’s not like he plagiarized a report; he screwed up and forged a signature – one small mistake that had no real consequence on anyone else decides the fate of his life… I find the school cruel beyond words.

  7. It can definitely be a challenging thing to have a child with ADHD. I appreciate your reassurance and comfort given in this article. It can often feel like, as a parent, you are the only one struggling with your child. I have been looking at getting my son a life coach to help out. I appreciate the professional advice. I’ll be sure to keep this in mind!

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