ADHD and the Impact on the Family

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It is important to be aware of the challenges that exist in the home when one or more children (or a parent) have ADHD, as this disorder significantly impacts the entire family (Rief, 2003). Unfortunately, teachers are generally unaware or underestimate the struggles that families face. Typically, in homes of children with ADHD there is a much higher degree of stress than the average family has, along with depression or other pathology in one or more family members.

Note: Remember, it is likely that more than one family member also has ADHD.

Living with a child who has ADHD often takes a heavy toll on marriages. It is common for parents to be in different stages of a "grieving process" about having a child who struggles compared to other children, and whose differences may even be considered a disability. Parents frequently disagree about treatment, discipline, management, structure, and so forth. There are generally major issues surrounding the battle with homework as well as morning and evening routines (getting ready for school, bedtime).

Parents are also known to blame one another for the child's problems or to be highly critical of one another in their parenting or spousal roles. This causes a great deal of marital stress and a higher rate of divorce. Often it is the mother who must cope with the brunt of the issues throughout the day, which is physically and emotionally exhausting. In single parent homes it is even more challenging.

As any parent of a toddler knows, when your child needs constant supervision and monitoring, it is very time-consuming and interferes with one's ability to get things done as planned (housework, chores).

Parents of children who have ADHD are constantly faced with needing to defend their parenting choices as well as their child. They must listen to "negative press" about this disorder and reject popular opinion in order to provide the child with necessary interventions and treatment. Parents must deal with criticism and "well-meaning advice" from grandparents, other relatives, friends, and acquaintances regarding how they should be disciplining and parenting their child. This causes a lot of parental self-doubt and adds to the stress they are already living with day in and day out.

Frequently, the family must deal with social issues, such as the exclusion of the child from out-of-school activities and so forth. It is painful when your child is not invited to birthday parties or has difficulty finding someone to play with and keeping friends. Siblings are often resentful or jealous of the central role their ADHD sibling plays in the family's schedule, routines, and activities, as well as the extra time and special treatment he or she receives. In addition, siblings are acutely aware of and feel hurt and embarrassed when their brother or sister has acquired a negative reputation in the neighborhood and school.

Parents of children with ADHD have a much higher degree of responsibility in working with the school and being proactive in the management of their son or daughter. Further, it is crucial that they fully educate themselves about ADHD in order to successfully advocate for their child's needs.

Keep the following points in mind:

In many cases, other family members who have ADHD were never diagnosed and have been struggling to cope with their own difficulties without proper treatment and support. That is why the clinicians who specialize in treating children with ADHD say it is so important to view treatment in the context of the family. Learning about the family (communication, disciplinary practices, and so forth) helps in designing a treatment plan that is most effective for the child.

It is very common that a parent will recognize for the first time what he or she has been suffering with over the years (undiagnosed ADHD) when a son or daughter is diagnosed with the disorder. This can be most helpful and result in a positive change in the family dynamics. Without question, families of children with ADHD need support and understanding. Fortunately, there are far more supports available now than there were a decade ago.


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