Reply To: No Passion No Energy No Care

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Penny Williams

My son is also 15 with ADHD (and LDs and autism), and is also highly unmotivated for the most part. He has zero motivation in school and doesn’t even do the bare minimum a great deal of the time, but I know there are reasons behind it that have nothing to do with laziness or simply not caring to do well.

First, the ADHD brain is only motivated by interest and urgency, not importance like neurotypical brains. So, most of K-12 education will not be motivating unless your child has a specific interest in the subject matter. And, even then, he may not be motivated to do written work and study for tests.

Secrets of Your ADHD Brain

Next, school is overwhelmingly difficult for kids with ADHD. They are working 150% for 6+ hours of the day, 5 days a week, to just attempt to meet expectations. And all that effort produces very little reward for them, because the classroom expectations are set for neurotypical students, and kids with ADHD are 20-30% behind developmentally. If you’re adding any learning disabilities to the mix, it compounds the struggle.

By the teen years, many kids with ADHD succumb to learned helplessness. Especially when they don’t get the recognition, understanding, and support they’ve needed in school. The “Nothing I ever do is good enough, so why try?” attitude sinks in and takes hold. As I’m experiencing, that is enormously difficult to reverse. This webinar replay has some good tips to help in this area:

Free Webinar Replay: From Crushed to Confident: 10 Ways to Help Your Child Soar in School

If your child is also very smart, it often makes them even more misunderstood in school. The guiding principal among most educators is that intelligence predicts capability, but nothing could be further from the truth for kids with ADHD and other invisible disabilities.

I don’t worry about my son finding his passion yet. We offer lots of opportunities to try things out, and we are open to stopping things that aren’t a good fit or are found to not really be of interest. Without interest, there won’t be any motivation. And, I agree with others, if he really wants to play baseball, he’ll do what it takes. If he doesn’t, that’s ok. Ask him what other physical activity or sport he’d like to try instead.

My daughter is now a freshman in college. She doesn’t have an ADHD diagnosis, but she does have some wicked anxiety. She had no interest in driving at 15-16. In fact, she still had no interest in driving at 17-18, but we pushed because she was going away to college and has to work while in school. Many of her friends had no interest in driving either. And she has met other college students who don’t drive and have never even had a permit yet. With ADHD symptoms, I think it’s really a blessing that he’s not interested in driving. For someone with ADHD to drive at 15, it’s really allowing an 11-12 year old behind the wheel, and we all can imagine how dangerous that is. My son is interested in driving, because he’s interested in cars, but he accepts the fact that he’s not ready for that responsibility, and that level of executive functioning demands yet. Yes, I begged and pleaded with my daughter to drive, because it would have been easier for me. But, in hindsight, I’m glad she didn’t buckle under the pressure, because she clearly wasn’t ready for it.

Hang in there! You’ve got this.

ADDitude Community Moderator, Author & Mentor on Parenting ADHD, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism