When Children with ADD Become Adults

Health Writer

High school graduation can signify many things: an entry into the adult world, the end of childhood, the beginning of working full time or maybe entering college. For many parents of children with ADD/ADHD, high school graduation high school graduation can be a turning point. The many years of struggling with homework are finally over. The daily struggle of keeping up with schoolwork, projects and teachers has ended. Their children can now move on, they can create their own lives, enter the workforce or leave the nest to go to college. But sometimes, high school graduation only brings different problems. ADD/ADHD doesn't disappear with a diploma. The symptoms don't instantly disappear and the problems associated with those symptoms do not vanish.

Hyperactivity may decrease as children become older. Coping mechanisms learned through the high school years may help some young adults manage in college or at work. Medication is also still an option for adults, letting them increase their attention and focus and helping them succeed. For some, their determination to succeed provides the needed motivation to overcome obstacles and find their way in life.

But for many adults with ADD/ADHD, there are problems with keeping a job, staying focused, sustaining relationships. Co-existing conditions may also create problems. College life, especially when a student with ADD/ADHD chooses to live away from home, can be overwhelming. The difficulties they had in high school become accentuated when they do not have the support of their family and teachers. Without support, children can run the risk of dropping out of college. They may view this as a failure and those with low self-esteem may believe they are not capable of succeeding at anything.

Even if a child with ADD/ADHD chooses not to attend college and moves directly to the work force can face obstacles and find it hard to keep a job. Parents have written to me for many years looking for help with their adult children that are still living at home. They talk about the succession of jobs, all lasting only a short time. Sometimes their children quit their jobs impulsively, not thinking of the consequences. Sometimes they lose their jobs for being late often or for not showing up at all. Some children may have decided to stop taking medication once they leave high school and find they cannot manage their symptoms in the workplace.

Staying focused and looking for a job can be hard for young adults with ADD/ADHD. Their inconsistency can make a job search last for weeks, even months. Some days they will wake up early, look in the paper and begin to look for work. Other days they will sleep till noon, not starting a job search until 3:00 in the afternoon. They may apply for a few jobs, lose interest and return home or hang out with friends for the afternoon. Some parents complain that their children only seem to look for a job when they are threatened with being kicked out of the house. Some sit home each day, going out only when they know their parents will be home shortly. Their sporadic job search is often fruitless, creating a downward spiral and lowering their already unstable self-esteem. When co-existing conditions, such as depression or bipolar disorder are present, the job search is that much more difficult.

Parents become frustrated. They feel angry and guilty at the same time. Angry that their child is sitting around all day doing nothing and guilty knowing their child has a disability or mental illness. Parents may understand and be willing to help, but they often are not willing to accept the behaviors and the lack of motivation. Parents are reluctant to make their child leave their home without any means of support but also are not willing to let them sit around being irresponsible. Parents may begin to feel that this is a result of their parenting, if they had just done something different, if they had just created more self-reliance than this never would have happened, then their child would act more responsibly. Parents begin to doubt themselves, as well as their children.

Over and over, parents may try to set up a plan. They may try to wake their children up each morning before they leave for work themselves. They may circle ads in the newspaper. They may try to incorporate ways for their children to make decisions as an adult. They may set up rules, only to not know where to turn when their adult children never seem to make any progress. There are no easy answers and no right way to help your child. Each family needs to find what will work best for their situation. Below are some guidelines to help families work out a plan of action:

  1. Remember that ADD, depression, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses are not the result of bad parenting. You have not done anything to create any of these disorders.

  2. ADD/ADHD and mental illnesses are manageable with proper medical care. Although it is tempting to contact the doctor, set up appointments, pick up prescriptions and checking behind your children to make sure they have gone to their doctor's appointment, this may foster dependence rather than independence. Instead, talk to your children about the importance of them taking these steps on their own. Maybe you will want to make the appointments in the beginning, but they need to be responsible for getting to the doctor and picking up their prescriptions. As time goes on, they can assume more responsibility for setting appointments.

  1. Accept your child's limitations but don't accept that ADD/ADHD is an excuse. A diagnosis of ADD/ADHD can sometimes explain many behaviors; it should not be used as an excuse for laziness, misconduct or irresponsibility.

  2. Decide what you are willing to accept and what you will not accept in your home. This is best done when your child is not present. Make a list of what you expect your child to accomplish each day. This might include getting up at a certain time, looking for a job, and completing certain household chores. Make a list of what behaviors you will not accept. This might include drinking alcohol, drugs, or quitting a job without having another job lined up.

  3. Decide what your goal is. You may accept that your child can live in your household indefinitely, but must have a job. You might want to work toward having them working full time and moving to their own apartment. You may want them to work part time and attend some college classes. Make your goal specific and set a time limit to reach the goal.

  1. Set limits on the support you are willing to offer. Are you willing to wake them up each morning to get to work on time? Are you willing to provide financial assistance to them on a limited basis? Are you willing to help them in searching for a job? Remember to offer assistance on a limited basis in order to develop independence. Resist the urge to do it for them.

  2. Check your own behaviors to make sure you are not enabling your child. Do you find that you are constantly rescuing children from their own poor decisions? Do you try to lessen consequences so that your child doesn't have to feel the pain from their decisions?

  3. Decide on the consequences for not following house rules. What are your prepared to do if your child does not get up to look for a job? What are you willing to do if you find that your child is drinking or doing drugs? If you have determined that you will not accept certain behaviors, you will need to have consequences for these actions.

  4. Sit down with your child and go over your goal, your house rules, the support you are willing to offer and the consequences for not following your rules. Let them know exactly what they can expect from you and exactly what you expect from them.

  1. Accept that it is okay to place conditions on your child living in your home. You have a right to want your home clean, you have a right to not live each day worrying what your child is doing or if they will be home at night. You have a right to demand that they have household chores to complete. You have a right to deny your children complete freedom. You have a right to have a home free of drugs and alcohol. Accept that you have the right to demand your child leaves if they are not willing to respect you and your household.

Having adult children remain in your home can be stressful for everyone in the family. These guidelines can help you to set up a plan to make the transition from childhood to adulthood a little easier for everyone.

Suggested Reading:

Diagnosing and Treating Adult ADHD

ADHD at Work

Self-Advocacy at Work