Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can run in families, so it makes sense that if your partner has it, your child might as well. Often, the adult goes undiagnosed until the child develops problems in school, and the assessment process begins for the child. At that point, the adult often realizes that they, too, have similar symptoms that may not have been previously recognized. ADHD is a relatively new diagnosis, so many adults of child-bearing age went through school before ADHD was something with a name.
While it is great that your partner and child have a diagnosis and there is treatment, having two people in the house with ADHD–one of whom is supposed to shoulder a lot of the “adult responsibilities”–can be a recipe for chaos and frustration.
How do you handle having an adult partner and a child with ADHD?
The good news is that if you and your partner work together to create a home environment that is ADHD-friendly, it will work for both the adult and the child. Similarly, strategies you put into place to help with school situations can also be applied to your partner’s work environment. Let’s look at the symptoms of ADHD, and discuss some strategies that will work for both kids and adults. (In addition, medication and therapy are also recommended.)
- Trouble concentrating/staying focused: A work environment that is free of distractions is essential. For your child, a quiet place in the house without television, music, pets, or other distractions is key. For your partner, setting up a workspace where they will not be interrupted is important. If they have an office door that can be closed, great. If not, asking for a space where there is little foot traffic and not much noise would be helpful. Then, break down longer tasks into short chunks. For example, homework can be done in 15-20 minute chunks with a five-minute break in between. At work, your partner can do work tasks in chunks as well.
- Disorganization/forgetfulness: At home, everything needs to have a place: toys in the basket, book bag or briefcase placed in the same spot every day, keys on the hook every time, phone on the counter every time, etc. Color-coding of folders can help in making sure homework gets from home to the right class at school, and that papers get filed in the right place at the office. Checklists are essential. A planner is also an excellent idea, provided that it, too, has its place and goes there every time (because a lost planner is no help at all!) Reminders that pop up automatically on your partner’s phone or computer can help with forgetfulness, too.
- Impulsivity: This one is tricky. For kids, after an incident has happened, doing a “rewind” to discuss what happened and how different choices could have been made can help reinforce better choices next time. For adults, social skills training and consequences of behaviors might be enough to help your partner stop and think before acting. If not, some sessions with an ADHD coach might be in order if this is a real problem for your partner.
- Emotional difficulties: Those with ADHD often have anger problems as well. This popular video of Dr. Russell Barkley, an international expert on ADHD, explains why the ADHD brain has problems with emotion regulation. Once you understand that your partner and/or child simply do not have the capacity to regulate their moods like people without ADHD, that might mitigate your distress a bit, but does not solve the problem of social acceptability. Similar to handling impulsivity, with your child and your partner, doing a “rewind” and discussing alternative ways to handle difficult situations can be helpful. You can also role-play situations where your child may get frustrated or angry, and decide on other ways to manage the emotions. In addition, medication is often recommended for reducing this tendency.
- Restlessness: Vigorous exercise most days of the week is a top recommendation for people with ADHD because it helps to release excess energy and improve focus. Encouraging your partner and your child to workout together is not only effective for reducing ADHD-induced restlessness, but provides for bonding time between parent and child, and instills good exercise habits for life.
A very helpful resource with a lot more information is the ADD/ADHD guide at About.com.