The vast majority of ADHD content on supporting your children focuses on young kids and teenagers. But being a parent doesn’t stop the moment your child turns 18. They will continue to need your love and support well into adulthood.
ADHD also doesn’t stop the moment a person turns 18. Most people with ADHD as children will continue to have ADHD their entire lives.
The manifestations don’t go away as we age (if anything, studies show they get worse). We can only learn new tools and strategies to manage them.
Parenting an adult child with ADHD may not require quite as much time and dedication, but there’s so much you can do for your kids in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s and beyond that will help them thrive – without going overboard on the advice when they’re looking for their freedom!
Whether your child was diagnosed as a child/teenager or as an adult, you should take some time to educate yourself on what ADHD looks like in adults and how it tends to affect them.
While the general manifestations of ADHD don’t change, like difficulty with memory, emotional regulation and planning, children and teenagers simply have different problems, priorities and social expectations than adults so the way ADHD presents changes as we age.
Children and teenagers might be hyperactive in the most literal sense – running around, being goofy, disrupting those around them.
Adults tend to internalize their hyperactivity and it comes out as fidgetiness or restlessness (examples include crossing/uncrossing legs, playing with hair or clothing or writing instruments, shifting from side to side, or drumming fingers). Some adults may even appear manic when they feel hyperactive, with quick speech and a heightened sense of exhilaration.
This is just one of many ways in which ADHD is different for adults than it is for children.
My blog is all about ADHD for adults so after this post, please continue reading!
If you’re looking for more resources, I have a series of resource posts featuring podcasts, courses, websites and other blogs.
Believe Them When They Say They’re Trying
ADHD makes a lot of basic and simple things really difficult to do. ADHDers have difficulty making (and keeping) appointments, managing their finances, planning for the future, and organizing things around the house.
But it’s never for lack of trying. If anything, adults with ADHD try harder than those without it because they are lacking in so many executive functioning skills.
Supporting your children as adults means believing them when they say they’re trying, and helping them realize when they may be stuck in a pattern.
Don’t tell them to buckle down, try harder, get focused, or be more disciplined. These kinds of phrases imply that your child is somehow deficient, and trust me when I say that they probably already feel that way on their own.
Instead, help them try different. Offer alternative suggestions for tasks they struggle with. Find gaps they’re missing. Be patient when you have to repeat yourself because keep in mind that working memory is an executive skill most ADHDers struggle with.
Remind Them of Their Successes
I’m not a parent (at the time of this post!) but I have parents, and I have friends who are parents, and I know that people with kids generally want the best for them. They want them to do big things with their lives, be happy, and be loved.
And many parents naturally may want their kids to have what they view as successful careers along the way. Perhaps a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, a scientist, the CEO of a large company.
Those all sound nice, but they aren’t for everyone.
In most cases they require a lot of school and many ADHDers struggle with traditional education routes. They also often require years of dedication to a specific path, and ADHDers struggle to maintain routines and need a lot of variety.
Your ADHD child may have a lot of careers. They may start businesses that fail, attempt school that doesn’t work out, try jobs that don’t fit.
It doesn’t mean they aren’t successful, and they need to be reminded of that fact as often as possible.
ADHDers hear more negative feedback than their neurotypical counterparts, and they are prone to negative self-talk and unstable self-image because of this. You may have encouraged your child a little extra when they were young. But they continue to need that additional encouragement as they grow older!
Success comes in all forms and your children will need a constant reminder of this. Help them to see how much they’ve accomplished when they’re feeling low.
Recognize Changes, Even Small Ones
Your ADHD child might have a harder time changing than others around them and I know it’s frustrating.
For starters, change requires recognition of behavioral and thought patterns. Many ADHDers struggle with self-awareness. They won’t be able to see how long it takes them to complete tasks, why they are consistently late, or the impact their actions have on other people (whether it’s negative or positive!).
It looks like self-centeredness. I assure you, it’s not. If anything, many of the ADHDers I know are empathetic and caring people. Self-awareness is actually an executive function and it has nothing to do with personality!
Change can also be difficult for ADHDers because starting and maintaining new routines doesn’t often work out. They might get excited to try something new, be on top of it for a few weeks and then they miss a day or two and the routine slips away.
So, your ADHD child picks up a personality and because they change so little for so many years, you might think that’s it for them.
But it’s not! All people are capable of change and anything can spark it. A late ADHD diagnosis, a new therapist, a new romantic relationship, a hardship, a personal loss.
Don’t assume your ADHD adult child is never going to change. They are, and you need to recognize them for it because they know they haven’t changed in a long time. They haven’t stagnated on purpose and they absolutely deserve praise for finally making something different happen.
Reframe your perspective of your ADHD child and do it often. Look for small changes everywhere and treat them a little differently to recognize that you’ve seen that change. Because once they know you can see it, they’ll know it’s real and that they’ve accomplished something meaningful.
Maybe Consider Your Own Diagnosis?
No matter if your kid has been diagnosed as a child, a teen or an adult, chances are they’ve gotten it from a parent. Maybe it’s you, maybe it’s the other parent. ADHD is genetic.
Either way, consider whether their manifestations feel familiar. Is your child just a younger version of you? Do you understand their struggles deeply because you too have struggled in those areas?
Do yourself, and them, a favor and get tested for ADHD if you suspect you have it! There’s no age limit on a diagnosis. Learning you have ADHD, even as an older adult, can completely affirm that there’s nothing wrong with you and that you’re not deficient.
How are you working to better understand and support your ADHD adult children? I’m always listening!