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ADHD Is Not an Excuse — Ever

Taking medication helps my eight-year-old’s symptoms, but we still have a lot of work to do setting his misbehaviors straight.

My eight-year-old son Edgar does not always behave well. Neither do his brothers, but he has attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) and they do not, so his behaviors and actions are under closer scrutiny than those of his siblings. Though I might initially like to stomp my foot and say, “That’s not fair,” I think it actually is. As a teacher and a parent — as a human being — I have subscribed to the notion that fair is not everyone getting the same treatment, but everyone getting what they need.

Edgar’s brothers’ behavior is generally not under anyone’s microscope because they are not currently going through a process of unlearning and relearning. Before Edgar’s ADHD diagnosis, and subsequent medical regimen, his transgressions did not respond to correction. You could tell him on Monday that he was not allowed to behave a certain way in a certain setting. By Wednesday, he either would have forgotten the conversation or impulsively repeated the undesirable behavior.

Once medication was introduced, Edgar suddenly, and for the first time, seemed to understand his behavior and the ways it affected others. He used words such as “overreaction” to explain why he threw a pencil across the dining room when he learned we were having chicken instead of pasta for dinner. He, at last, seemed to understand the purpose behind the consequences.

[Self-Test: Could Your Child Have ADHD?]

Despite a successful medical regimen, his prescription is far from a panacea. It is wrong for Edgar and us to see it as such. Medication is a tool that opens doors for him, but it does not excuse him, or his parents, from the work that needs to be done.

Recently, Edgar was asked by a family member to stop playing a game that had captivated his attention to the point of his ignoring the existence of anyone else. She needed him to clean up a mess he had left behind and forgotten about in another room. It was a simple, reasonable request, but at that moment Edgar did not see it that way. He lashed out verbally, and, instead of cleaning the mess, made it worse.

I removed him from the situation, cleaned up the mess myself, and made our goodbyes. I spoke to Edgar in the car and informed him of the consequence for his behavior. As I was doing so, his four-year-old brother said, in a moment of sibling solidarity, “But, Mom, Edgar has ADHD.” My reply was simple: “Edgar’s ADHD is an explanation, but it is never an excuse.”

Edgar served his consequence, and, because of the medication he takes, was able to understand why his behavior was not acceptable. Will there be transgressions in the future — perhaps another one tomorrow? Absolutely. But he — along with the rest of us — is learning.

[Free Resource: Rein In Intense ADHD Emotions]

Updated on July 15, 2019

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  1. I’m not sure how I feel about this post. I don’t think it explains the situations that have been referenced well enough. As someone with ADHD, as a child I was treated like I was intentionally and punished for undesirable behaviours on a regular basis. I can tell you it does no good other than to reinforce that you have failed, yet again, to behave appropriately. While reading this I feel like I’m the child and wanting to scream at the top of my lungs that it’s not my fault. As you say, ADHD is an explanation. There’s a fine line between teaching appropriate behaviours and punishing the symptoms of a condition.
    Out if curiosity is the writer of this article the same person who posted a comment that went down less than well on another post that describes the internal struggles of someone with ADHD?

    1. I feel I should also mention that I said similar things when my mom used to call me up on undesirebale behaviours. I didn’t mean them. She didn’t understand me and I learned the response she was looking for. However every time I used words like ‘I overreacted’ or ‘I was just late’ I felt like I was suffocating. I wanted to scream at her that I didn’t chose to behave that way, I just did. Courtesy of the ADHD. It’s not an excuse, it’s an explanation.

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