I hear this a lot.
“My son/daughter has ADHD so change is really, really hard for him/her.”
While it is true that consistency, especially when it comes to scheduling, is usually the most beneficial for kids with ADHD (see “Children with ADHD”), we must ask certain questions about these statements. Is change hard for all kids with ADHD or only some of them? Which types of things do they struggle to change? Is change difficult in all circumstances? If so, why is it so difficult for these kids?
People with ADHD function better with schedules and predictability because their brains have a harder time creating consistent parameters on their own. Since they struggle with disciplining their brains, their environments must become consistent for them.
In truth, all kids tend to function at a higher level when they’re on a set schedule, but studies have shown that kids with behavioral disorders require it even more so.
That being said, a study done by Kimberly J. Saudino, Ph.D., in 2005 showed that DNA affects a child’s ability to cope with change. This means that people are born with an certain amount of ability or inability to adjust to new circumstances. The study also showed that environment affects just how severe the child’s abilities become over their lifetime (whether able or unable), but environment can only affect what is already there at birth.
Just like with non-ADHD children, kids with ADHD can be anywhere along the temperament scale. They can be genetically predisposed to being a more pessimistic, scared, and clingy child, or they can be genetically predisposed to being a more optimistic, brave, and independent child. They can also be anywhere in between! They don’t have to be one or the other.
The Child Development Institute reports that the formation of this inclination [to be either adaptable or unadaptable] occurs during prenatal development. So before you’ve even met your child for the first time, their brain has already decided how well it’s going to process change.
Environmental influences throughout life will alter a child’s ability to cope, making them either better at coping or worse at coping, but there is a certain level of ability a child starts out with from the very beginning. The place they genetically start out at will determine a huge piece of how they turn out as an adult.
This could explain why some babies are fussy from the moment they’re born while others are happy and cooing right away. Some kids are wired to be more optimistic, go-with-the-flow kids. Some are wired to be more pessimistic, dig-their-heels-in kids.
So how do these findings relate to the susceptibility of ADHD kids already struggling to cope with change?
These findings remind us that each of our children are unique. Even in the world of ADHD, all of these kids might need strict parameters, but certain ADHD kids will deal with “tough” days better than others.
On days where everything seems to go wrong and the usual schedule is thrown into a pit of chaos, some kids with ADHD will be able to adapt more easily than their ADHD peers. Some kids with ADHD–those who are wired to be more overwhelmed by change–will have complete meltdowns when some piece of their schedule is altered.
They may not realize why they’re melting, but they’ll be the ones who are more prone to it. The important part is knowing who your child is, knowing how they naturally respond to change, and knowing how to help them adapt more easily.
Do you have one of the ADHD kids who’s genetically predisposed to be more anxiety-ridden and worrisome? Has your child been like that since birth? How can you help them learn to calm down when things don’t go the way they expect or hoped for? How can you help them learn to move forward with something new?
How can you make their schedule more consistent in order to limit the number of overwhelming meltdowns they’re forced to endure, and teach them about change in a slow and patient way?
Or are you one of the parents who has an ADHD child who’s naturally more able to deal with change? Has he/she been like that since birth? How can you encourage your child in their abilities to cope with change? Can you reward them or praise them for going with the flow whenever they’re able?
Can you guide them when they’re not able?
How can you make sure your child continues to stay on a daily schedule (whenever feasible) to ensure that they don’t start to expect “randomness” as their new schedule, just because they’re more capable of dealing with it?
Tell me about your ADHD kids and their lives, parents!
What are your kids like?
How do they cope with change?
How are you helping them?
Do you have any advice for other parents?