How would you suggest supporting an a... - CHADD's Adult ADH...

CHADD's Adult ADHD Support

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How would you suggest supporting an adult son with ADHD?


I hope this is an appropriate question. Our son, who is 20, has been an accomplished student and athlete. He is currently a sophomore in college, and a member of an athletic team. In the past, he has done well in school (3.8 GPA) and athletics (state champion), but this semester he has really hit a wall. He can't focus, can't motivate himself to do his schoolwork, and is getting increasingly frustrated and down on himself. He's self-diagnosed himself with ADHD, and it seems that this may fit, but we're trying not to get ahead of ourselves.

We've connected him with a psychiatrist for an assessment, which we expect he will complete in a few days. Bottom line, his current condition seems to be really impacting his mood and outlook. His academic outlook feels a bit hopeless; he's not completing assignments when due, can't read for extended periods of time, etc. He needs relief. We're encouraging him to complete his assessment and that, regardless of the specific diagnosis, he will begin to get the help and relief he needs and wants.

For those of you who may have been through this, do you have any suggestions on how we can support him through this process, both in the very short term (before his assessment is complete and treatment, if any, begins to work) and in the longer term? What works? What doesn't? We've been careful not to say things like "Just snap out of it" or "You just need to work harder," and instead just tried to listen, empathize, and brainstorm.

Any help/advice is appreciated. Thank you!

15 Replies

As a junior in college with diagnosed ADHD, I completely relate to his experience. I am a chemistry major and as my classes get really hard it gets more difficult to keep up with school. I take Adderall for my ADHD, but even still, I have gone through the same thing he is going through right now. Feeling really down on yourself, beating yourself, feeling hopeless, worried about exams and doing well, etc. I think being diagnosed and taking meds will 100% help him, because for me, Adderall gives me motivation and focus to be productive during the day. Until sophomore year, I had never really struggled in school, so when I finally began struggling big time, I blamed myself and felt hopeless, like there was something wrong with me. Even though I was already diagnosed, the initial shock of not being able to succeed tore me apart. Maybe that’s a big part of what he is experiencing too. Eventually, I got so beaten down after being repeatedly burnt out over and over again.Since my lowest point, I have found more peace with where I am at now. Don’t get me wrong, I still get burnt out sometimes and beat myself up about it. But I feel a lot better overall.

My advice to him is to try and have a lighter, easier class schedule. Only 1-2 hard classes at a time, then fluff his schedule with the easiest classes possible. Pushing himself during this time is just going to burn him out. Once he gets diagnosed he should contact his schools disability resource center and get approved for academic accommodations like extended testing time and receiving notes from the class note taker. As for actually surviving this semester, he needs to figure out what setting works best for him when he studies. Going to the library would help me a lot. Setting a timer for 30 mins and working during that time might help, so he doesn’t feel too discouraged by work and can manage his time. I got myself a whiteboard, and I write 3 goals that I want to accomplish each day. Sometimes I don’t even finish all of them, but it helps to prioritize and aim to get at least one thing done. He should try to find time to do something he enjoys each day, that will help recharge him a little. For ADHD, exercise is supposed to be really helpful, and that’s supported by lots of research too. I have been going to the gym in the morning every day, and it really helps get my day started and wake me up. Without it, it’s hard for me to get out of bed and get my day going. So, he could do something like that maybe. For ADHDers, getting a consistent routine really helps because it sets boundaries and requires less decisions on our part that could lead us in the wrong direction. I don’t have a consistent routine yet, but I do like to write out my plan for the day sometimes, so I don’t waste as much time. For example, sometimes I’ll write what I need to do in order during the day, like “get up, workout, eat a good meal, drink coffee, open up my laptop and start working on something.”

If he needs more help, he could get an ADHD coach, which is something that I have really wanted to do for a while now. I just keep putting it off, because I’m ADHD, LOL. If he needs any more advice about specific struggles he is having, feel free to message me. I really hope he can figure all this stuff out, because I know how much this sucks. Good luck!

PDXMB in reply to 2000sunflowers

Thank you so much for your response. These are great suggestions. He still has not received a diagnosis, so we're hoping to get some clarity on this next week. Exercise is not an issue for him - he's a distance runner and gets up at 6:30 every morning to train. Of course, he is also hyper focused/obsessed with running, which we understand can be a side effect of ADHD.

He had talked to us about dropping his most difficult course a couple weeks back, but when we spoke to him last night, he still had not done so. I think he feels like that would be quitting or giving up, and doesn't want to do that.

I like the idea of writing out a plan, setting a timer, setting goals... I know sometimes when I feel overwhelmed or frozen just writing a list of a few critical things and then being able to check one off is very relieving.

I'm curious - do you think part of your difficulty is having online courses, rather than in-person? That is especially frustrating for him - he has no social or person-to-person interaction in classes, everything is through a screen or book.

Again, really appreciate you taking the time and sharing your thoughts and experience. Best of luck with your studies! Chemistry is grueling, you must be very bright to have gotten to where you are.

2000sunflowers in reply to PDXMB

Online classes are 100% way harder for people with ADHD, because it’s all up to you to keep up with your work. If his class load is really hard for him to manage, it would be a great idea to drop one. I know it’s worrisome to receive a withdrawal on your transcript, but in my personal opinion, it is worth it if it means he won’t struggle with mental health and get burnt out. Being burnt out is a really common problem for ADHDers, and it feels especially overwhelming for us when it happens. I have dropped 2 classes in my experience in college and I really am glad I did. If I could change one thing about my experience, it would be not pushing myself too hard, so he should really consider it.

PDXMB in reply to 2000sunflowers

Thank you again for your kind words and thoughts!

I am essentially going through the same thing. My best recommendation is to first validate his struggle and recognize that even if it doesnt look like it hes trying his best, no one wants to fail but having adhd makes it really difficult to even complete assignments, let alone do them well. As far as getting through classes now I would recommend checking out how to adhd on YouTube, that channel has a TON of advice on making tasks easier like gamification or breaking tasks up. And it seems like you're being good with giving gentle reminders and not getting frustrated so definitely keep that up. I would also recommend talking about depression and anxiety, its something that can develop with undiagnosed adhd and can become especially difficult when hitting a wall like this when you've done so well before. Its something you should at least look out for and be aware of. From your post I can tell that you want to help your son and it's really good that you came here for advice and are supporting him getting treatment. The best of luck to you and him, we're all rooting for you!

PDXMB in reply to tim_tam

Thanks for taking some time to share this! Very helpful!!

with ADHD there are 2 types of focus..... literally 0 and 20000% meds help by adding a 50% so yah it helps if he is diagnosed. im like 2000sunflowers except in in computer engineering.... besides that its literally the same experience. what i did at one point was trying to focus my mental energy to force myself into a hyper focus mode... like basically explaining to myself that this is my career and i love it... that i need to know this to do it. so for me i found something i wanted to do like design new windmills or new circuits for something. with that i was like ok well how do i do that i need to know this.... huh.... instead of seeing it as work i would see it as interesting..... and could focus myself into learning it..... though like he stated it being online now..... hasnt happened once.... like OMG!!! im so screwed with diffyQ this semester....... oh and a tip...... if his program requires DiffyQ... change OMG ITS SO HARD! XD not really just making a joke because it really is incredibly hard. but that comes with the territory. the thing people dont seem to realize including myself. high school is SUPER easy compared to college. esp with ADHD. that difficulty is exponentially grown. The classes are so much shorter with so much more information. and having ADHD u take in literally EVERYTHING. this is an exaggeration but with ADHD u could tell people how many leaves are on the trees u pass when u walk type taking in information. He is going to feel down on himself most of the time. because when u have something u need to do but physically cant. all while you scream at urself to just do it like everyone else can. its painful. no joke.... i should be doing my programming homework... but im here.... hope it helps.... might make a post explaining to parents or something about what its like inside the head of ADHD. theres a lot more than people realize. esp. teachers. college wasnt built for us.

Thanks for your response! I think your description of frustration is exactly what he was describing to us.

Just to play devils advocate a little, this could also just be depression. Plenty of people have been suffering online during Covid 19 and with lack of socialization, many have been getting really depressed. I only bring this up because depression would be a good diagnosis in comparison to ADHD. Depression can usually have some medication and you feel better and you’re not on it forever. Especially when some kind of normal comes back to life. ADHD is forever and the medication can be too. A medication with more danger involved as well. If he only has depression but is diagnosed with ADHD the medication may very well help his depression! Accept he will take it forever and well.... be addicted. If he does have ADHD that’s not addiction. It’s medication.

I worry that with him and you guys buying into the diagnosis before he sees a dr that you all might “get your hopes up”. If he doesn’t have it he may have a hard time accepting that now that he thinks he has it. Hopefully it all works out for you guys. Be mentally prepared for the dr to have alternate ideas as well. And definitely do your research! No one knows him better than his mama. ADHD doesn’t pop up, it’s there since birth. There will have been many signs. Now, that 100% doesn’t mean that it’s your fault or you missed something. Children with a higher IQ tend to no get diagnosed till later, if ever. It would be good to read people’s stories from seeing their ADHD children and see how many things ring true for when he was a kid. If nothing gives you a big ah ha moment, then I would be sure not to try and sell ADHD to the dr if there’s a possibility it’s depression. If it’s not ADHD, that’s a good thing. If it is, well, you’re on the right track to getting better.

I hope something here helps.

thanks, and absolutely agree. We've been targeting the end of his assessment as the time for understanding what is going on and having a plan for treatment, regardless of the diagnosis. We've been sure to not take ADHD as a given at this point. And, of course, we're not really part of the assessment.

agreed, i dont know about being diagnosed as adult because ive always had it, but i feel the issues he is having now would have been a lifetime thing. like having amazing grades and high gpa to me seems a bit off. mostly because with ADD or ADHD the work is just not getting done in the first place. i agree, might be more depression or something that might be a new feeling so unrecognizable or something. during the hospital appointment dont tell them u think its ADHD just tell the symptoms and let the doctor come to the conclusion. i feel like if u tell them it might plant a seed for it and if he doesnt have it its concerning like he said addiction. when u have ADHD and u take things like adderall you dont get high. well if u take a ton obv.... but like normal dose, non adhd a normal dose would effect them differently and often people will get high. just dont want them to go through a terrible addiction because of a false diagnosis. best of luck! fill us in when u find out! everyone here is more than willing to help out.

"ADHD doesn’t pop up, it’s there since birth" That is true but for many people like my son it reached critical mass as a sophomore in college. School, Job, Adulting, massive distractions all were a bit much for him. We were also very uninformed (this was 10 years ago) and didn't understand what he was going through and neither did he. We knew he had ADHD tendencies but didn't get the whole picture of what that meant. He's married (to another ADHDer) now with 2 kids now but still has resisted getting a diagnosis. He still struggles with 'normal' work and has yet to find a job that works for him, but at least his depression and anxiety has lessened as he got on Wellbutrin and has seen therapists. At 29 years old it's up to him now. We still continue to support him and after 8 years of it being really bad, just him saying he's doing "good" when I call him is like a miracle.

And that’s exactly what happened to me! I went 40 years with ADHD and had no idea what it was. My life was difficult to say the least. I managed to get by until I had my son at 38 years old and my entire world fell apart. I could no longer cope and any tricks I had taught myself through the years seemed to instantly disappear. My processing capability dropped to an all time low which was impossible to function. After 2 years I was thankfully properly diagnosed but it took no convincing of any sort! It explained EVERYTHING! My entire existence! And not just mine. When my surprise diagnosis came and I told my family, it diagnosed 80% of them too. Just the smallest of research by all of us revealed the beast we had all struggled with and didn’t realize. There was zero resistance. Zero questioning. It fit like a glove into all of our lives from birth. It suddenly made everything make sense to all of us. All the little idiosyncrasies from childhood and on, suddenly made sense from the perspective of ADHD. Not everyone in my family needs medication. We have a surprising high number of high functioning ADHD’ers. They would have never known if it wasn’t for my diagnosis. But it explains a lot and didn’t just pop up. It’s always been there, we just didn’t realize that our kind of “different” had a name. That’s what I meant with my post. It’s no one fault of it got missed. It just means her son was high functioning and has done very well! But if they’re not sure of the diagnosis, the best thing they can do is trace these idiosyncrasies back to his childhood. If he was showing signs back then, in retrospect, then ADHD is a good fit! If not, then it’s good news because maybe he has something else that could require treatment and be cured!

I’m glad your son is doing so well! 2 children and an ADHD spouse is extremely difficult! Just after I started medication I realized my husband of 4 years ALSO had ADHD! It’s what contributed to my down fall unfortunately! He’s now been properly diagnosed, thank god, and is just starting medication. Hopefully things get better soon but it is HARD to have 2 ADHD adults in one house!!

Yes, so many stories like this on this forum! I'm 63 and always knew it was part of me along with being an introvert and HSP. I've developed lots of workarounds in life but I think I'm going to get a formal diagnosis. It may help explain this 'weirdo' to the management at work. It will also do like it did with your family and make everyone it's there are it could be part of their life also. Thanks for the response and hope you and your family will do well with the knowledge. Cheers!

I know I'm very late to the party here, but I think I'm in a similar situation to your son. I'm 24 and have pretty debilitating ADHD. Unlike your son, I was diagnosed when I was 9 or so. I know a lot of kids that age get misdiagnosed just because they're hyper, but my diagnosis was well-earned lol. I could not sit still or focus for the life of me, and it was disrupting not only myself but my classmates and teachers as well. I've been on various ADHD meds ever since. I also have depression, which I think stemmed from the ADHD; my self esteem was extremely low based on feeling weird, dumb and lazy compared to the people around me, not to mention frustrated that everything was so much harder for me than it was for others.

Much like your son, I really hit a wall in college and my grades suffered. I had gotten into my "reach" school so everything was already much harder than I was used to, but even beyond that I could barely motivate myself to go to class at all; I probably went to about 25% of my classes each week during my first semester, and while I didn't fail any of them, I still got put on academic probation. After that my GPA steadily improved, but I still had to take a semester off my junior year due to a combination of crippling depression and an inability to decide on a major. I got things back on track my senior year, when I decided to major in music (just so I could graduate; I never planned on pursuing it as a career). School was still difficult, but at that point in my college career I was able to take classes more suited to my strengths.

Anyway, in terms of tools that helped me with my issues, I found that making to-do lists has really helped. It almost pains me to say that, since I used to roll my eyes whenever my parents would suggest it to me. But since I graduated college and started working in an office, the to-do lists are a lifesaver. I still have a memory like a sieve, but this way it doesn't cripple my professional life like it did my academic one. If I had listened to my parents while I was in college, it would have been a game-changer for when I was feeling overwhelmed with schoolwork.

For medication, the most helpful one for me so far has been Mydayis. I've been on a ton of them (Ritalin, Adderall, Vyvance, Evekeo as well; and those are just the ones I can remember). I was on Vyvance immediately before, and while it helped me in the mornings, I noticed a "crash" around 2 or 3 pm, after which I was pretty useless the rest of the day. Mydayis is a newer drug that's essentially like a longer-lasting Vyvance, and it has helped me tremendously. The trade-off is that it can make it a little hard to sleep sometimes, but I've found that just taking a Melatonin solves that problem. Obviously everybody reacts differently to medication, but if you try Vyvance or Adderall and have trouble with the afternoon "crash", I recommend trying out Mydayis.

And for things my parents did to support me, just basically saying things like "I know this is hard for you" and trying to help me out with something I'd be struggling with, rather than getting frustrated. They definitely still got frustrated at points, but for the most part they sympathized with my struggles.

I'm assuming he's gotten his psych evaluation by now, so this might all be useless information if it turns out he doesn't have ADHD. But if he does, I hope that my experience with this difficult condition can be of some help.

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