ADHD Parents Together
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Will my 17 yr old son ever get motivated?

I can’t begin to describe what we have been through with our 17 yr old son. But I’ll try. In first grade he was identified as “gifted”, by second grade diagnosed with adhd and in sixth grade diagnosed with ocd. A long journey to high school has included constant struggles academically. He understands the content and participates in class, but his homework doesn’t get done. No matter what we do, he just can’t get past the fact that he is unmotivated to do/get started on his work. The end of each marking period is always the most stressful with teachers reaching out about unfinished work, etc. He lies to us about it being done and goes to great lengths to trick us into believing that work is handed in. For instance, he’ll make a fake email address for a teacher and show me that he emailed them the paper/project.

We’re utterly exhausted trying to stay one step ahead of him. I’m going to look into having him see a therapist who specializes in adhd, but in my experience they’ve been so hard to find. We need help.

Desperate and depressed.

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I know all about the long high school journey....! If your son is not on meds for ADHD, that would be the first thing to start. And does he have an IEP or 504? That can cut down on the amount of homework required. Therapy is not very effective for teens....they just don't have the insight into their own behavior and are totally self-absorbed. The lying is very common, although really frustrating for parents. You don't say if he has any type of consequences for not doing his work? Do you take away the car, video games, etc?

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The other thing I wanted to mention is that this is almost certainly a power struggle between you and your son. And he will win, even if it means he will fail classes, etc. These ADHD teen boys often don't care about the long-term scenario, like not graduating. When you add OCD to this, it's not hard to understand why your son simply can't get things done. If you think he is medicated appropriately, both for the ADHD and the OCD, and that he has some accommodations in school, then you have to start giving out consequences. I should also mention that outside tutors are often much better than parents at getting kids to do their homework.

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Wow I so appreciate you taking the time to reply and your valuable input. So to answer some of your questions...yes, he has been on medication for adhd since third grade and is under our pediatricians care for it. He is not medicated for OCD because he has that aspect under control and it is not impactlting his life in a negative way like it used to. That took two to three years of weekly therapy.

He has had a 504 agreement since 6th grade and I finally got him an IEP just two months ago with pushing on my part. He is in advanced courses and honors classes and they were reluctant to have a kid taking calculus in 11th grade have an IEP. Clearly they did not understand the issues here. But they did come around and he has one now.

We have had a tutor all through high school who he has a wonderful relationship with and who is able to get a lot of work out of him in the hour that she spends with him. Unfortunately, that’s all the time she has available for him, otherwise we would have her come twice a week.

As far as consequences, there are many. We take away his phone, driving privileges, social privileges and have even tried to dangle getting a car (used) if he demonstrates effort. He’s a musician so he has piano lessons and there are times when I have to take his lessons away so he can catch up on his homework. That’s actually a punishment/consequence for him.

He is asking for help from a therapist to address the issues of avoiding work, not being motivated to start and getting distracted. So I have to hold out hope that therapy might work since he said he wants to go and get help. We did go to a therapist for adhd two summers ago, but I didn’t think it was very helpful at all.

I think I covered all your questions. Thanks again.

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Just another thought - perhaps he needs an increase in dosage or a switch in meds? My son switched between Adderall and Vyanse for years and always ended up on the highest dose.

One more thought: if he is understanding the material and has okay grades for his tests, maybe you need to request a decrease in homework? Or if there is a study hall, can he do homework there? And if the tutor works, then I'd think about getting a second one.

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Yes I think we need to revisit his mess to see if they should be adjusted. He takes 30 mg of vyvanse in the am and .5 mg of amphetemine salts in the afternoon for homework. He claims that the vyvanse dosage is effective, but that the afternoon dose isn’t.

He is in a special study hall called “study support” and he is able to do homework in there. I am having a meeting with his LS teacher and his history teacher and will discuss less homework. It’s something I ask for at every 504 mtg, every IEP mtg and every single time I get push back. It’s always...”it’s not fair” and I always say “fair doesn’t mean equal.” It’s so frustrating. I used to teach learning support, so you can imagine how even more frustrating this is for me. When I know what accommodations should be made but aren’t being made.

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I also have a son who was able but not willing to work. He graduated high school with a 3.785 GPA (with me pushing and not all honors classes) and headed to college (even though I knew it wasn't for him because he has never been academically inclined) only to come home from semester 1 with a 1.6 GPA and a withdraw from Biodiversity. He too, had a 504 and I constantly had to advocate for him and MANY teachers did not comply.

All this said, his pediatrician told me that in middle school, advanced classes were probably better because they tend to be more project based. My son does not test well but can put together a project with much greater success.

As a teacher at a preIB middle school, I have seen very bright children get in over their head as we offer up to 5 high school credit courses. We want our bright children to be in these advanced courses but sometimes it is not to their best interest. A slightly lower level course allows for less stress and less outside homework. This may make high school easier on all of you but will this effect his chance of going to college? Is your son showing interest in going to college? Some of these students, as bright as they are, do not opt for college but prefer a skilled job or other alternate paths such as the military. Colleges today look for a well-rounded student, not necessarily an academic resume. If he is playing piano, sports, doing community service, and has a good academic record, he will be accepted by colleges.

I have had to accept that my son is not going back to college but is working at a restaurant and taking 1 class at a time at our local state college.

I am not sure if all this rambling is getting my point across.

Consider adjusting his class load if you think he would perform better.

Hang in there.

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Thank you. That's really nice of you to share your experience and input. We did decide to lighten his load by mixing in some "academic level" classes, while keeping some "honors level" courses. A good balance I'm hoping. He's shown lots of growth and promise his last marking period junior year and this summer, in terms of completing assignments and being more responsible. He is eager to go to college and we have been doing visits this spring and summer. If anything, it seems to be motivating to him and he's excited about the future. I can't predict how he'll do once he goes away when it's entirely up to him to get his work done and get help when needed, but at least at this point, things are moving in the right direction.

Thank you again for reaching out and i wish you the best with your son. I'm sure everything will work out the way it was meant to.

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I hear you - we got absolutely no support in high school. And if I had to do it again, I would INSIST on the decrease in homework. This would have virtually removed the "homework wars" at our house. Just another thought for you: any ideas on college? It was not a good experience for us.....our son did not do his homework! But your son sounds like he is not as defiant as ours was!

The lack of motivation and the inability to organize is almost certainly the ADHD and can be addressed by medication, I think.

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I am not sure if this was in reference to me, BBBwithADD, but my son continued to try college for 4 semesters. He called me spring break of last spring and cried his eyes out wanting to come home because "it's just too much and he feels he is wasting my money." He had a great time but couldn't manage his free time and study time and said it was hard having four classes to study for. Going from studying for one class to another to another and then back again was too confusing. He really wanted to prove to us and himself and others that he could do college, but made this realization four semesters in. It was very sad and a hard learning experience.

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Thanks for sharing your experience. I wish you and your son the best. I’m sure he’ll find what works for him, whether it’s college in some form or work.

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Ok that input about the meds really helps. I think I discount how effective they really can be.

College of course is another whole element to this equation. His grades (GPA) are around a 2.9/3.0 but his ACT scores are pretty awesome at a 31. So here lies the issue. What the heck is going to happen when he goes to college?!? We know and he knows that at the rate he’s going now, he won’t do his work there either. That’s why he wants to get this under control now, so that he can have a good senior year and not flunk out of college!

I had support at the IEP mtg from the principal. I was really impressed. I think I should ask that she be at the meeting with the teachers. I appreciate your comment on reflecting about that you wished you would have insisted on less homework. He just had two huge papers due before break, which got done two weeks late and not to completion. And neither one of them had been modified in any way for him. I’m like, why did we even get this IEP? Isn’t that what the special ed teacher’s job is? I love teachers, don’t get me wrong. I used to be one! But I just don’t think they understand the extent to what we’re dealing with. Every time I ask for less homework, I feel like they think I’m trying to take the easy way out. Trust me, there is nothing easy about my life for the last 10 years. Not to mention my 2 other kids who most certainly have been affected by all of this.

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Both my husband and I were always on the teacher's "side" because we grew up supporting our schools and our teachers (plus neither of us had any leaning problems....)....this continued until high school when we discovered that the system was very punitive towards kids who did not fit into their prescribed little round holes. I am still angry when I think about how this impacted all of us, and not in a good way. Truly, no one cared and we heard the same crap about it "being fair to everyone else". Wouldn't you think they would WANT kids to actually graduate? And my son was a good kid who was not a trouble-maker but he hated school by the end. The other really interesting thing (and I've heard this a lot) is that none of the high school teachers seemed to have a clue about ADHD. Our kids really don't qualify for special ed - they have other needs, but everyone thought our son was trying to get out of work (and that we were helping him, I guess.).

I keep wondering when the parents of ADHD kids are going to band together and form their own "movement"!!!

I would try junior college first......at least for a semester and see how your son does. It might save you a lot a money and he can always transfer.

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Therapy works! My son lies too but hey I think therapy can help a lot.

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Thank you for you reply! I’m going to give it a go again. Glad to hear it’s helped with your son.

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Your son sounds like me when I was in high school. I’m too tired to explain right now here’s the quick version....GT then AP classes, high school drop out, college for 3 years before I quit, then once I was diagnosed and medicated I became so motivated that I built a career that’s been more successful than I could have ever imagined. It feels like the only thing I’ve ever been able to do on my own without giving up.

High school was awful for me. I never went. I think I missed 43 days in one semester. Honestly, I never really thought I’d amount to much as an adult but that couldn’t be more incorrect.

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Thanks for your insight. I’m glad you’re doing so well now! There’s hope.

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additudemag.com/symptoms-of...

There is a section in this article addressing motivation.

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That is a great article! Thank you for sharing it. I’ve already passed it along to my friend who’s son also struggles with ADHD.

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Thanks for this amazing article! It real changes how I understand ADHD

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I have the exact story.i wish i had the answer.My son is in 11th grade and i am sitting on the edge of my seat to see to it that he graduates on time i 2019 and that he can hold down a job.i would love for him to go to college but at the point he maturity level isnt there.All i am doing is praying praying praying.keep me posted

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Thanks for your reply. I know there are a lot if us out there. I feel like high school is when these kids are totally misunderstood and not well supported. Yes they “should” be able to do x, y and z, but often timed they can’t or don’t. It’s all about having them be accountable and trying to make that happen by giving them bad grades. Just a stupid vicious cycle. There are highs and lows, but try to remember that your son is good and that this will get better. Someone shared an article with me on this thread. It’s really good and helpful in understanding our boys. You should read it. Keep me posted as well. We can do this!

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Motivation is such a tricky thing. The reality is that it's an "inside job". What I mean by that is that in order for anyone to be motivated to change their behavior, they have to perceive something as a problem THEY want to change and they have the internal desire to do what it takes to get there. Most of the time, we parents try to get our kids to change behavior due to problems WE are having with what they're doing, but often these things are not problems to the kids (usually because we haven't allowed them to really feel the sting of natural and logical consequences that happen when they make certain choices). Until your son has ownership of his choices and ownership of his results--until he sees that the results he is getting due to his choices are not getting him what he wants--he won't have the motivation to change anything. Here's an article that discusses this in more detail. parentcoachjoyce.com/teen-s...

In terms of how to improve things (without power struggles and nagging), I always recommend a strategic, collaborative approach to problem solving. This would involve you giving your son input into defining the problem and coming up with solutions and discussing consequences ahead of time, (he therefore has buy-in and owns his choices AND his consequences because he had a part in setting them). Then, you allow natural and logical consequences to happen (not punishments; punishments don't work). Also, you keep your relationship with him strong so that when he is finally ready to do things differently, he will be willing to come to you for help (and willing to hear what you have to say). If you're interested in learning more, here's information about a free course you can enroll in. parentcoachjoyce.com/how-to...

Hope this helps!

Joyce Mabe, Parent Coach

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Thanks for taking the time to reply and offering your expert advise. I’ll be sure to check out those links!

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hi Tdevin, I understand. My son is now 26, he managed to graduate high school but college has been....well, a trial-and-error experience at best, despite being on medication. University was out of the question so he enrolled in community college. He had some sucess but mostly failure. It was the same old ADHD issues of poor organization and even poorer time management. After being a part time student for 4+ years he dropped out. He reenrolled just this past semester for one class and failed. 😪 There is the maturity issue (ADHD boys are about 5 years behind their peers) and also since he us an adult he unfortunately has to learn life's lessons with the consequences of his actions. But I have faith that my boy will get there eventually.

my suggestion to you is community college to start with to see how your son does with that. Good luck.

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Thank you for sharing your experience. I really appreciate it since you’ve already been through the high school and college years.

My son is doing better at this point in the school year. He might even finish with some pretty decent grades. We’ll see how things go this summer with a job and next year(senior year) with his schoolwork and extra currliculars. I think we’ll have a better idea of what he can handle with college at that point.

Thanks again!

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Wish I could help! I'm headed down the same path.

Good luck! Hope someone offers you advice that makes a differnce.

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Tsevin46- I remember posting about this long ago now wanted to post two new ideas to think about. I know this is all so exhausting.. but these are not hard at all. I think it would be great if we could find him the right mentor, just like him but who is a fee years older who is now in college ( I assume that is where he is headed or at least you want him headed) who could give him that "pep talk" or even better like a big brother.

I also really think it would be a great idea for him to look at or start talking about college and what he wants for his future. Many kids only think about today and always find if they start thinking about the future it really helps them.

I am sure if you reach out to the list there is someone who has a son in college willing to help.

Just a few "new ideas"...

Best of luck, keep of the great work.

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