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I'm new here, and I think my 11 year old (soon-to-be) stepson has ADHD

Ashley_J profile image
Ashley_J

I've been with his father for 2 years, but I suspected that he might have ADHD while we were still dating. I remember being taken aback at how easily distracted he was doing most things...fastforward to now, and I'm watching an amazing kid struggle with the same issues- but with more responsibilities as a 6th grader. My fiance and his son's mother have a contentious relationship, but one of the few things they agree on is that they absolutely do not want him screened for ADHD. Their biggest fear, outside of being told to medicate him, is him feeling shame and feeling like something is wrong with him for having ADHD. I really don't think he will. I'm not convinced he even knows what it is.

There's not much I can do about the diagnosis since I have no legal authority here. My question is about how your kid took his or her diagnosis. How did they feel about the screening process? Did any of your kids experience shame or self-confidence issues as a result of knowing?

10 Replies

My son was diagnosed at age 7. He has always been very matter of fact about it. He also got glasses at age 7. He looks at his nearsightedness and ADHD the same way. He learned young that approximately the same percentage of children have ADHD as wear glasses although not all are diagnosed with ADHD (it's pretty hard to blame nearsightedness on the child not TRYING hard enough to see, but this argument is often applied to children with ADHD). He views his ADHD meds the same way as he thinks of his glasses. He can live without either but he focuses better with them.

I believe some kids feel self conscious about their glasses, but he does not. It helps that he knows that the ADHD brain can be a super power and that he is in the club with the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison, Einstein, and some say, Leonardo DaVinci (not to mention Michael Phelps). Teachers who deny ADHD (I call them "flat Earthers ") can be tough on self esteem because they make the child feel like his best isn't good enough. Be ready to be an advocate for your (soon to be) child. My son also knows that

the fact that he has learned to work hard for every accomplishment that comes easy to other children will serve him well in life. Since he was a little guy I have told him that most people don't try their best (some say that 80% just show up) and that by learning to do his best every day he will not only be successful but extraordinary!

I won't go on a rant here, but the worst hit to his self esteem has been his teachers. Despite extraordinary grades (from hard work) he isn't made to feel like one of the smart kids because his ADHD requires him to get more assistance at times. He is denied honors level courses ( depite grades that would qualify him) and isn't invited to join the science competition (despite being one of the top 5 students) and wasn't asked to be a member of the honors group despite grades that exceeded those of other children who were . This stuff really chips away at the self esteem of an otherwise confident kid. However, to me, none of these are a result of him learning his diagnosis. In fact, I think it would be much worse if he were unaware that he has ADHD. Hope this is responsive to your question.

Ashley_J profile image
Ashley_J in reply to ADHD_DAD

Thank you for sharing your experience! And it's encouraging that your son understands what ADHD means in his life.

The challenge for my daughter started before the screening process. She knew she was “different” from those around her. She would say, “I’m stupid”, “Why can’t I control myself”, “I hate myself” and etc., while I worked to help her father understand that she needed help.

It took quite a few years before he agreed to have her screened. This caused years of chips to her esteem and missed educational material that I needed to re-teach at home.

With the diagnoses, she can actually attribute the struggle to something. In school, she is noticeably different on her medications and off. I try to never send her to school without it, because when I do it is never pleasant for her teacher and the other students. I missed it once last school year, her teacher voiced some concerns about her behavior to her dad and I and I was able to confirm to them both that I had missed the medication. That was an eye-opener for her father. We co-parent.

If a child has no place to attribute the challenges to, the default is themselves. That is a tough pill to swallow. Can a child successfully navigate ADHD into adulthood? Yes. There is an increased prevalence of adults being diagnosed with ADHD for the first time. Is there a higher likelihood of substance use, development of other mental health disorders, relationship challenges and involvement with the criminal justice system without intervention for a youth? Also yes.

My hope is that his parents will navigate his situation carefully and make the best choice for him and them.

- I have a child with ADHD and work with children and families with mental health diagnoses.

This is exactly what I'm afraid of. He's hard on himself whenever it takes a really long time to do something he knows he knows how to do. If he actually does have ADHD, I really think it would help him understand why he has such a hard time with certain things.

I love that you are looking out for your step-son in this way! There can be a stigma around having a diagnosis - and especially for pre-teens and teens, that can be hard. But not getting treatment is also horrible for your self esteem. The other commenters have mainly said what I would say, so I’ll just add two things. I teach at the college level, and my students with ADHD and other, similar, diagnoses are always my most grounded, most mature students. They know how to advocate for themselves and how to manage their energy and time in a healthy way. So while it can be really hard to deal with the challenges that come with a diagnosis - it actually does end up that they are often stronger and wiser for it. Even at age 12, my daughter is much more self aware and self-disciplined than many adults I know! And that’s because of the therapy that she’s had and the maturity that comes with accepting and working with a diagnosis. Also - and this is going to be hard - there’s a very good chance that mom or dad also has ADHD. And they may be in denial about it -

especially if they have gone through a rough divorce and don’t want to give their ex-partner any ammunition. So you are in a bit of a spot. There are a lot of great resources out there: Driven to Distraction, Russell Barkley’s books and videos. I’m also a huge fan of Sharon Saline and her book: What Your ADHD Kid Wants You to Know. I would say you are doing the right thing - doing research and gently suggesting your opinion. If the teachers or your stepson’s doctor are in agreement it will help too. Good luck!

ADHD_DAD profile image
ADHD_DAD in reply to MaudQ

I appreciated your comments on college level children with ADHD. That is a perspective I had not heard before. That would have been my prediction based upon my observations.

Ashley_J profile image
Ashley_J in reply to MaudQ

Thank you! I've heard of those books, I'm definitely going to check them out.

I'd tread lightly. You've known the kid for 2 years, that's it. You're not a medical professional.

I've actually known him longer than that, I've just been in a relationship with his father for 2 years. But that's beside the point you're making. I can't diagnose anything, and I'm not trying to. Thank you for the reminder.

ADHD_DAD profile image
ADHD_DAD in reply to Ashley_J

You may not have to do much. My wife always remembers when we took my son to a pediatric neurologist for something else (we didn't know about ADHD) and within about 1 minute the doctor said, "You know he has ADHD, right?" If it's obvious to you...

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