“Why Won’t My Parents Accept My ADHD Diagnosis?”
When a child is diagnosed with ADHD in early adulthood, parents don’t always support or believe that life-long symptoms are actually a neurological condition. Taking steps to educate yourself and your family will help you find your way with your new attention deficit diagnosis.
Q: “I am 20 and diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD). When I was undiagnosed, my parents browbeat me with complaints, and didn’t understand why I acted the way I did. The thing is, after the doctor diagnosed me and explained the symptoms of ADHD, not much has changed. My family doesn’t believe that ADHD exists or that it is the cause of my behaviors. Other relatives give my parents bad advice, like encouraging them to show me ‘tough love.’ How can I help them understand that I am more than a diagnosis, a diagnosis they don’t understand?”
An ADHD diagnosis is a big deal. Like other big life events, it evokes strong emotions—sadness and anger. You might be asking yourself, “Why didn’t I find out sooner? My life would have been much easier.” You may also be overwhelmed as you learn about ADHD, and figure out the best ways to treat and manage your symptoms. The good news is you probably feel relieved and happy. Now you understand why you are the way you are. It explains why you have strong emotions, daydream, and forget appointments. You know you have a condition that has a name. Your diagnosis makes more sense than the explanations your family have come up with to explain your behaviors. You are not lazy or stupid.
If They Don’t Accept ADHD, They Don’t Accept You
I’m sure it feels hurtful and puzzling when your parents say they don’t accept the existence of ADHD. When they reject ADHD, it seems they are rejecting you, since ADHD is an integral part of you. It doesn’t make sense that your family doesn’t want to know the cause of your behaviors, which they have been complaining about for years.
Sadly, your experience is common. Many parents aren’t supportive when their adult child has been diagnosed with ADHD. It is hard to explain the disorder to people who don’t believe in it. There isn’t anything like a blood test or a brain scan that helps diagnose ADHD. However, there are specific and detailed criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that must be met before a diagnosis can be made. You should copy those pages in the DSM and let your parents read them.
It’s true that ADHD symptoms don’t seem unique. Everyone experiences some degree of distraction, procrastination, and forgetfulness. What the non-believers don’t understand is that symptoms in those with ADHD happen every day, and are so severe in some cases that they affect a person’s daily functioning.
Regardless of what your parents believe, ADHD is real. There is scientific evidence to prove it. Brain scans show biological differences in the structure, function, and chemistry of the ADHD brain compared to neurotypical brains. In addition, ADHD is a disorder recognized by the federal government, the Department of Education, the Office for Civil Rights, the American Medical Association, and many respected associations and organizations.
It’s helpful to remind yourself of these facts, because when the people closest to you question the existence of ADHD, it may cause you to doubt its existence too.
It’s great that you recognize that the advice your parents are getting from relatives is not good advice. Standard parenting wisdom isn’t enough when it comes to parenting children who have ADHD. Not only does the standard advice not work, it can do lasting damage to a child’s self-esteem.
You’re Right! You Are More Than a Diagnosis!
Knowing you have ADHD is helpful because it allows you to start finding practical solutions to your challenges. ADHD is part of you, but it’s not all of you—and it doesn’t define you. If your parents don’t understand your diagnosis, it’s because they have chosen not to understand it. Although that decision might feel hurtful, don’t feel it’s your job to get them to change their minds. It is tough to get people to see things differently, particularly when they don’t believe in ADHD.
Instead, focus on getting help and support for your ADHD challenges. Here are three suggestions.
1. Find people who understand ADHD. Start to spend time with like-minded people who have ADHD. It will be refreshing to enjoy the company of people who understand ADHD without explanation or justification. Find a local support group, so you can meet people face to face. That connection is invaluable.
It is validating to hear other people’s life experiences with ADHD and to realize you aren’t alone. Friends with ADHD will balance the negative messages you get from your family and reduce feelings of shame or embarrassment you might have from the years you went undiagnosed. Best of all, you aren’t the odd one out.
2. Learn about ADHD. Read books, listen to podcasts, watch webinars. Set a goal: Read one book a month or listen to one podcast a week. The more you understand the condition, the more you understand yourself, which is empowering. Over time, you will learn the different and surprising ways ADHD shows up in your life.
3. Treat your symptoms. Successfully treating ADHD requires a combination of approaches. These could include prescription medication, talk therapy, accommodations at college or the workplace, improving social skills, and making lifestyle changes, such as an ADD-friendly diet and better sleep hygiene. You can’t do everything at once! Instead, take one step at a time. Speak to your doctor to see if medication is an option for you.
Next, ask yourself: “If I could find a solution for one area in my life, what would make the biggest difference?” It might be “remembering appointments with friends” or finding a strategy to arrive on time for meetings or events. After you are feeling confident in that area, you can ask the same question and tackle the next challenge.
With time, your parents may change their beliefs about ADHD and accept your diagnosis. However, if they don’t, you can move ahead by getting support and help from other sources. I know you will find your way with your new diagnosis, and perhaps get your parents to support you.
Jacqueline Sinfield R.N., is an ADHD coach and author of Untapped Brilliance: How to Reach Your Full Potential As an Adult with ADHD.