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ADHD Formula for Trouble

Is (ADHD + delayed gratification) x (impulsivity + hyperfocus) a formula for trouble in your household?

A young ADHD girl crying after her parent doled out consequences for bad behavior
A young ADHD girl crying after her parent doled out consequences for bad behavior

Sometimes kids with ADHD find it hard to delay gratification; to wait for something they want or need. Hey, we all fight that battle, right? Take me, for example. I’m wishing I’d delayed the gratification of buying this new laptop I’m using, and replaced our trampoline instead!

If a person like me, without ADHD, has trouble waiting for what I want, then consider how having ADHD might magnify the problem. Imagine impulsivity and hyperfocus colliding.

My daughter, Natalie, thinks: It’s raining. Hey, it’d be cool to buy a new umbrella! BLIP! That BLIP! is impulsivity — the idea popping into her mind.

Then, the idea gets stuck in her consciousness. Umbrella? Umbrella. Umbrella! Being stuck is hyperfocus.

Next, combine the two. Now she’s not simply stuck, in a passive way, like a car stuck in the mud that the rain in this example created. She’s stuck, and the car’s alarm is blaring — BREEEEEP! BREEEEEP! BREEEEP! BREEEP! Loud! Frenzied! Crazy-making! She wants to turn it off — immediately — and it’s all she can think about. It’s driving her insane — now she can’t think! She must push the right buttons — she’s gotta TURN THAT THING OFF!

When I imagine that that’s how Natalie feels when she has to delay gratification, it’s easier to understand why delayed gratification is the antecedent to some of her fits.

Natalie’s mega-fit, the one I wrote about in my post, ADHD Rage was, indeed, over her desire for an umbrella.

I’m serious. Just. An. Umbrella.

It had just started to rain as we drove to pick Aaron up from baseball practice, a 15-minute drive from our home. Nat saw some kids walking, carrying umbrellas.


“Mom, can we buy an umbrella?”

Did I say no? NO, I did not say no. I said, “Sure. But right now we need to pick Aaron up from practice. We can buy an umbrella later.”

The alarms went off. Natalie had to have an umbrella NOW. “Later” might as well mean “never”.

After the fit she had, the answer certainly did change to never! The latest gotta-have-it to wreak havoc in our household was a $4.98 chess set that Natalie saw while on a shopping trip to K-Mart. I said, “Yes. That’s a great idea. Let’s go buy it soon. But not right now.”

From Natalie’s reaction, you’d have thought I said “NEVER, oh powerless one! Ha ha ha! (Evil laugh.) I hope you suffer!”


Natalie flew into a rage. She sent a bowl of grapes skittering across the kitchen table to crash against the wall and shatter. Next came a bowl of pasta.

Let’s just say, a very unpleasant hour followed.

Sometimes, instead of throwing a fit, Natalie whines and begs, and no amount of behavioral intervention seems to help. To throw out another comparison, it’s as if her remote is broken, so she can’t change the channel. Recent cases in point: “I want to turn into a boy so I can play baseball and wear a real uniform!” and “If I had some just had some cardboard and some glue and some duct tape and some aluminum foil to build a rocket ship I’d be happy!” I’m supposed to clap my hands and make these things happen/appear like magic.

Magic — BLIP! — Hey, anybody know where I can get me some of that? I want it NOW!


Parents, do you think I described this problem accurately? Is (ADHD + delayed gratification) x (impulsivity + hyperfocus) a formula for trouble in your household?