What to Do When Other Adults Suggest Your Child Has ADHD

ADHD Education

This is an important article to read so you can be ready for the ignorance that usually accompanies negative words about undiagnosed ADHD behavior. They simply don't understand and need to be educated by well-trained ADHD coaches. Caroline Maguire, PCC, ACCG, and Director of ADDCA's ADHD Coaching for Families program, has some wonderful suggestions for specific language you can use to diffuse the condescending negative remarks made by those who think they know ADHD.    

-David Giwerc

How to respond to others who express genuine concern, sarcastic comments or judgmental words.

Originally published in U.S. News and World Report

By Jennifer Lea Reynolds, Contributor | Sept. 13, 2017

“Wow, so that’s what ADHD looks like? Thank goodness my kid doesn’t behave like yours.”

“Did you ever consider having your child tested for ADHD? My daughter has it, and it seems like yours might, too. Do you mind if I talk with you about this?”

Whether said with hints of sarcasm or kindly mentioned based on genuine concern, these comments may be similar to what others have said to you, suggesting your child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. When confronted with statements like these, what’s the best course of action?

Consider the Source, Move Forward Accordingly

Barbara Greenberg, a clinical psychologist with a private practice in Connecticut who specializes in parenting and relationship issues, says parents met with such words should respond “carefully and after taking a moment to pause.” She suggests thinking about whether the person is well-intentioned or not, which involves considering the source. “If this suggestion is being delivered by someone like a teacher who cares about you and your child, then ask for more information: For example, what they are observing?" Greenberg says. “If you feel that this information is being presented to you recklessly and by an individual who has little knowledge of your child and his or her behavior, then move on. Acknowledge that you have received the information, but try hard not to let it upset you.”

“A lot of people give unsolicited advice,” says Caroline Maguire, an ADHD and social skills coach at New England Coaching Services in Concord, Massachusetts. She explains that doing so makes it challenging for people who may be in the throes of a difficult situation, such as parents who are already on the path of obtaining a child’s diagnosis. Even if parents aren’t in the midst of obtaining a diagnosis, comments from others can create defensive feelings, which she says is natural, especially if what’s said is abrupt and abrasive. Like Greenberg, Maguire feels that it’s wise to ask the person specifically what’s being observed that indicates ADHD may be at hand. “This can give parents good info to take to a medical professional,” Maguire says. In some cases, she explains that parents may already have suspicions that their child has ADHD, which parallel the symptoms outlined by another adult. In this case, Maguire suggests they speak with a trained diagnostician such as a pediatrician or a psychiatrist. Such experts can “flesh out the degree of impairment and help parents figure everything out.”

Handling Rude People

At the same time, when people are rude about the manner in which they suggest a child may have ADHD, Maguire suggests taking the high road. “Say, ‘Thank you for sharing that,’” she advises. “It can be difficult, but saying this can shut these kinds of people down.” Greenberg suggests a similar approach. “If the comment does not seem to be well-intended, less is more. Say little and move on. This is not always easy, but it is often necessary.”

Penny Williams, parenting ADHD guide and trainer at ParentingADHDandAutism.com and the author of several books, including “Boy Without Instructions: Surviving the Learning Curve of Parenting a Child with ADHD,” agrees that it’s best to “rise above.”

“When I receive this sort of uninformed criticism, I remind myself that they don’t know me, my child or our story,” she says. “I usually just smile blankly at them and return my attention right back to my child, who is the one who actually needs my attention in those moments.” Williams says that it’s best not to engage with a person who judges your parenting or offers out-of-place opinions.

Ignore the Comments or Have Your Child Evaluated?

Still, regardless of how a person brings up the topic, Williams thinks parents shouldn’t be dismissive. “What a parent should do if someone suggests that their child has ADHD is to consider the possibility, as a better-safe-than-sorry measure,” she suggests. Part of this process involves learning as much as possible about ADHD. “Read about ADHD symptoms. Ask your child’s teachers and pediatrician for their input,” she says. “If it just doesn’t fit after open-minded consideration, then you can probably move on. However, if some red flags start waving as you delve into the possibility further, it’s time to request an evaluation and know for sure.”

The importance of an evaluation is critical, Williams says, noting that undiagnosed and/or untreated ADHD children can face serious consequences. She explains that such children are at “risk for low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, being labeled as the ‘bad kid’ at school, criminality and even self-medicating with alcohol or drugs as teens and adults.”

Remain Informed, Be Open to Insight From Others

It’s also ideal for parents to create a network where they surround themselves as much as possible with people who appreciate the strengths of ADHD children, Maguire says. Additionally, she notes that people should never listen to others who suggest ADHD is caused by parenting styles. Instead, parents should stay as informed as possible about ADHD, help children improve executive functioning skills and interact with the right teachers and behavioral experts.

Of course, none of this can keep comments at bay. The best bet is to know that people will likely continue to share opinions – kind or otherwise – and to be prepared when it happens.

“Ultimately, a parent has to be ready and willing to hear a recommendation that they should explore the possibility that their child has ADHD,” Williams says. “No matter who the suggestion comes from – family member, teacher, another parent or a stranger in the grocery store – we can’t see what we don’t want to or what we’re just not ready to see.”

Jennifer Lea Reynolds is a Health freelancer at U.S. News. She draws on her life and career experiences, including losing 70 pounds and writing copy at health-centric advertising agencies. Her articles have been published online in Smithsonian, Reader’s Digest, Woman’s Day and The Huffington Post. She’s also the owner of FlabbyRoad.com, where she writes about weight loss, fitness, nutrition and body image. You can follow her on Twitter@JenSunshine.