ADHD College grad refuses to look for work

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    • #92455
      Dad of ADHD Son

      My son recently graduated with a BS degree 4 months ago. He is ADHD inattentive, and school was difficult for him. It took him 6 years to graduate, and I had to rescue him a number of times.

      I told him when he graduated that he could do work on the house (which needs it) and I would pay him, in part so he could pay off a $2,000 debt to me. He’s rarely done any work on the house, and he hadn’t given me a bill so I could square the debt (I doubt if he’s reached $2000 yet, anyway). He hasn’t started his job search as yet. They are groping for people with his skills – there is a huge shortage of people with his degree. But he’s making sure that no one knows he exists.

      He has told me that he is afraid that he’ll fail. He has memory IQ scores of about 80, but a high IQ in most other areas, so he has a memory problem. He has steadfastly resisted any adaptive technology or other tricks to make up for his memory problem (such as recording, Livescribe, etc., ad nauseum).

      Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to make a project of him. I’m currently trying to make sense of my father’s estate, which is still random paperwork in garbage bags and boxes, taking care of my mother who lives a couple hours away and has dementia, and trying to keep my brother (PTSD – hasn’t worked since he was released from prison 10 years ago) and my sister, who is improving after a psychotic episode that involved $20,000 in damage and the police. I’
      m stretched pretty thin for a single father.

      I’ve told him that I’m not going to find a job for him – it’s his time (I could find him a job in less than a month). I have offered myself as a resource to him, as well as access to several databases I have that list databases and the names of the people who would become his boss at over 20-million companies in the USA. He won’t use them, so I see it as avoidance/self-sabotage.

      He has undergone way more than anyone his age should have gone through. his youngest sister died, we had a flood/hurricane a month later, he flunked out of one college, even though he tried hard there, then his mother abruptly left and moved, claiming our daughter had been murdereded (???), and cut him and his sister off. He is understandably upset with his mother, and feels that she has rejected him.

      He has refused to go to counseling, alone or with me.

      I know that one of the traditional methods is to throw him out and make him couch surf until he takes control of his life. I wouldn’t mind if he stayed at home, as long as he was working or seriously looking for work. But he is sleeping late, watching TV, and mostly lounging. He has also gained 80 pounds since entering college, doesn’t exercise, and is not really healthy. I give him no money, but am not charging him to be here.

      He has one parent who is non-functional and whom he feels has rejected him. I’ve been doing my best to hold back, but he can sense the steam coming out of my ears when I see what he does. He ignores the hints, or keeps promising to do things, but never does it. I’m afraid that if I play toughlove and toss him out, he’ll crack up (it’s a wonder he hasn’t already cracked up – there are more horrors – none his fault – that I haven’t mentioned, and his mother did crack up). Sometimes I think it’s a wonder he’s still standing. Or that I am.

      And I don’t have the bandwidth for a war. My psychotic sister was enough of a war, and that was followed immediately by my father’s death, me taking over as the family’s business manager and my mother’s monitor. I do have one sister who is capable, and she is helping manage my mother from afar as well, but she doesn’t have the financial expertise that I have.

      Few of you will be in an exactly similar situation, but I’m sure that many have had an ADHD adult child who has dragged his feet when launching, who also had mental health problems. Any advice?

    • #92487
      Penny Williams

      It sounds like he’s so overwhelmed and so fearful of failing that it has paralyzed him. I think an ADHD coach could be just what he needs — someone neutral to help him make a plan of action that takes into account his weaknesses and strengths.

      20 Reasons To Hire an ADHD Coach

      While I don’t think abruptly throwing grown kids out is effective, I do think you have to clearly set boundaries and expectations for him to stay. You don’t want to enable the current status quo. I would sit down together and write up a contract that includes your expectations from him (1 job application a day and 2 hours of work on the house maybe), and what he can expect from you (a place to live, whatever else you pay for/provide him, and support and help when he asks for it). Writing it down makes it more real. Having a contract outlines what your expectations are, but also shows that you’re a team and willing to work with him. And having very detailed expectations gives him structure he needs in order to get his brain to initiate what he needs to get done.

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

    • #92557

      I’ve seen the tough love approach not work many times in our family. We have a few professional couch surfers still going nowhere at age 40+. Some people will always need help from others to get through life. The success stories we’ve had (from going nowhere fast, to managing their own lives well) happened when a non-parent mentor noticed their strengths, they then saw something in themselves, and developed the resolve to improve their lives. How to find a mentor? This is a pot-shoot. I guess try to get your son out in the world as much as possible, be it church, volunteering, fun classes, etc. until something clicks and the right person comes along. Getting him more physically fit will help immensely, is there any activity the two of you can do together? It would help both your stress levels. You may want to go to counseling yourself, if he won’t go. Keep positive, keep on hoping for the best. It’s amazing that he made it through college…one step at a time. Take care of yourself.

    • #98061

      I’m not a parent, but I’m in a similar situation like your son where I graduated college 2 years ago, the job search was extremely anxiety inducing to even start, it led to even more mental health problems on top of my already diagnosed and existing mental illnesses, it affected my relationship with my parents, and I’m currently going to behavioral health appointments 3-5 times a week, trying to get to a point where I can work, know how to look for employment, and advocate for myself, but what you said sounds all too familiar to me and not in a really good way. I’m always afraid of coming across the wrong way, especially online when that happens so often, so I want to clarify that I’m not saying you’re a bad parent, I do understand your frustration, and the fact that you’re reaching out in some way for help tells me you do care about your son. Obviously our situations have differences, but I don’t want you to make the mistakes my parents made when they were also frustrated because that will cause more harm to your son and your guys’ relationship, and it sounds like the two of you need each other right now.

      You mentioned that it took him 6 years to get his degree because of his ADHD, but was he receiving decent accommodations from his college the entire time? In my case I was diagnosed with ADHD Combined Type this past March, meaning I never received accommodations that I had legal rights to according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, and as a result I burned myself out to graduate, and that burnout fatigue hit me like a wrecking ball when I was officially finished. Imagine trying to cut the biggest watermelon you found at the supermarket, but all you had to cut it up with the smallest, dullest butter knife in your kitchen. That’s kind of what college is like without proper accommodations for someone with ADHD, except cutting a watermelon with a butter knife is easier and doesn’t result in student debt. Disability offices at a good amount of colleges are also really bad with accommodating people with disabilities, even though it’s their job. Did your son burn himself out trying to graduate (pulled a lot of all-nighters, stopped doing things like favorite hobbies, basic self care, and hanging out with friends so he could study, etc.)? To my parents, the aftermath of me burning myself out looked like what your son is doing now (sleeping late, watching TV, and lounging). You also mentioned a lot of other severely negative experiences the both of you experienced, so it could also be possible that your son is also emotionally exhausted, which is just as bad as physical exhaustion and can last longer. Dealing with what he went through plus the possibility of burnout on top of that doesn’t leave enough energy to do much else, let alone job hunt. You know way more context about the situation than I do, but you should still sit down with him and calmly ask him about his college experience leading up to graduation and listen to him to see if he did burn himself out or if anything else was negatively affecting him to the point of emotional exhaustion.

      What you said about how he’s afraid to fail when it comes to looking for a job, not only have I also felt that exact same way, but it’s an actual thing that can come with having ADHD. It’s called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, and if you type that into the search bar for this website, there’s articles explaining what it is as well as a quiz to take if you suspect you have RSD. If you get a certain score or higher (like I did), it’s recommended that you see a mental health professional to confirm it. You’ll see it if you look up the articles, but for me, the only way to really describe my experience with how badly I avoided rejection is that avoiding any kind of rejection was the only way to survive, and I developed mild agoraphobia because of it. That’s how badly rejection, and even just the possibility of rejection, can affect someone with ADHD if they also have RSD. Based on what you said, it’s a safe bet that he has some form of RSD, but if you read through the main articles about it, and it definitely sounds like your son, ask him to take the quiz when you sit down and calmly talk with him.

      I understand that you’re stretched thin and have a lot to handle with your parents and siblings; my mom is the same way except with slightly different family situations and the estate she had to handle was in a different country. Are you shouldering this all on your own? Do you have any other relatives or friends that you feel comfortable relying on when you need any type of support? Are you currently seeing a therapist yourself (I just want to say this for anyone who doesn’t know, you don’t have to have a mental illness to see a therapist. People see therapists for things like switching career paths, etc.)? That is way too much for you, a singular person, to handle on your own. It sounds like you’re aware of your limits, and this post is literally asking for help, so please take care of yourself too and keep asking for help when you feel like you’re reaching your limit. On the other hand, please be careful with the way you talk about your son, especially if he can hear you. I don’t know if you ever did this to your son, but whenever I tried to talk to my mom about how my most recent diagnosis was affecting me, she would talk about how she has so many things going on and she can’t deal with more things at that moment. Every time that’s happened, I’ve always felt like I was unimportant to her and that she didn’t care about the very real things I experienced and could now verbalize. Also, remember your son is a human being who needs support, not a project that can be fixed and then it’s done and over with. ADHD is manageable, but not curable. Even if your son does gets a job, it’s very likely that he could have trouble keeping it because of his ADHD getting in the way of his work performance. It’s also possible that he’ll jump career paths a lot of times. It’s not your job to “make a project of him”. If you look at it that way and not for what it is, something he’ll have to live with for life and just learn how to manage, you’re going to become even more stressed out.

      You sound like you’ve been trying to help your son, but whenever you tried to help or whenever you brought up something that can help in conversation, does your son see that as you yelling at him? I only ask because you said that “he can sense the steam coming out of your ears”. If he does possibly have RSD, that can make that specific scenario seem a million times worse than it actually is. Whenever you tried to help, did he ask for help first or did you take matters into your own hands? I know you have good intentions, but sometimes if you do take matters into your own hands can do the opposite of what you wanted because something completely different might be what’s really wrong. Again, sitting down with him, being more actively self-aware with how you talk and the language you use, and actively listening to what he has to say, and not making any assumptions can make a world of difference and can do a lot more good compared to “making a project of him”. Two problems that I’ve seen a lot of people with ADHD have, whether it’s with my own eyes or while researching ADHD for my own understanding, are not taking hints and not following through with promises, two things that you said you tried in the past. For me personally, I can function better when people are super specific with me and setting reminders for myself helps with following through on promises, but it took a lot of trial and error to figure that out for myself, and it’ll take your son some trial and error before he finds what works for him and what doesn’t. All you can really do is be there for him, be patient with him, and accommodate for what helps him function better. A lot of the time it’s really simple stuff like being more specific when you talk to him or casually reminding him of something he promised. I will tell you this, that “tough love” approach of throwing your kid out and making them couchsurf until they have it together is a huge part of why many people with mental health issues end up homeless.

      Generally speaking, if your kid perceives you to be yelling at them to do a thing, that will make them not want to do said thing, even if you didn’t yell or if it’s something beneficial, like therapy. This isn’t something you can force because your son is over 18, and you can only benefit from therapy if you actively choose to seek it out. However, you can prepare yourself for when he decides for himself that he wants to start therapy, and you can also prepare yourself in case your son experiences a mental health crisis so you know what to do. I don’t know when your son was diagnosed or if he’s received treatment in the past, but other conditions and disorders can co-occur with ADHD, if left untreated for a period of time, and can lead to a mental health crisis. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a PDF on their website for family members that’s all about how to recognize a mental health crisis within a loved one and what to do. That should be within the Resources tab. You can also do some googling or check your county’s government website to see if your county has an Office of Behavioral Health. If you don’t see that right away, check under Human Services for your county. They would have all the local hospitals that offer crisis management and phone numbers you would need in case of emergency. The Office of Behavioral Health/Human Services in your county might also have information about programs for young adults or transition aged youth that can help with the specific issues your son faces. If they don’t have programs for young adults or if your son has aged out of them already, you can find more resources on the website. Just go on the site for your state, search your county, there should be a PDF available containing all the resources within your county and the surrounding area. It might seem like a lot, but only a handful pages will be applicable to you and your son. Again, if you research his possible options in case he chooses to get help, keep the information ready either printed out and in a folder or bookmarked on your computer for when he makes that choice to get help for himself. Keep the emergency information readily available in case you need it.

      I originally made an account on this website because I wanted to see if anyone else was in my position and how they handled it, so it’s interesting to come across the parent perspective. Everything I was diagnosed with except my ADHD was diagnosed in college when I had campus resources available to me because my parents are from a country that heavily stigmatizes mental illness. After I graduated, my dad thought he was helping me by pointing out what places were hiring, but he just yelled at me every time he did that to the point where it escalated to straight up verbal abuse no matter how you looked at it. That made the depressive episodes I was experiencing so much worse and way more frequent. I’m pretty sure there were times within the past 2 years where I should’ve been hospitalized, but my parents saw my symptoms as character flaws that I could just stop doing when that wasn’t the case at all. Please remember that some of the things your son does, like breaking promises, isn’t completely on purpose and it’s something he can’t completely control. Also, in the case of a mental health crisis, you can call the crisis numbers even if your son’s over 18. Knowing what to look out for and taking the appropriate action can have a significant impact on your son’s life if that were to ever happen. My mom pointed out last year that I needed to start seeing a therapist, but when I asked her how do I make the appointment with a therapist she literally said “I don’t know” and then just walked away. I had to learn how to find a therapist, manage medication, and find a supplemental program specific to my issues all on my own. It’s extremely scary and I was honestly winging a lot of things alone, so you having those resources ready for your son if and when he chooses to get help will make all of that so much less intimidating for him. Other than that, listening when he talks, asking questions and not assuming things, not raising your voice, and being patient will him will be more helpful to get him to open up, and it might help him realize that he needs therapy. If he does start therapy, and he finds little things that help him function better, accommodate for that. You’re already taking the initiative by asking for help on here, so please don’t give up on your son, no matter how hard it gets. If it does get overwhelming, don’t be afraid to reach out for help for yourself as well.

      I wish you and your son the best with this situation. From someone whose parents’ fought against everything I had to do for the sake of my own mental health, your son is lucky to have a dad who cares.

      • #98292

        Wow. Thank you, Fire Moons and Mary.n.ben, for your perspectives. As a parent of a college student with ADHD, sometimes it’s hard to know how to be there for him without coming across as pushy or judging. My son has a current “update” of his inattentive ADHD diagnosis and many suggestions from the report for accommodations that could almost certainly help him. But he refuses to ask for them because he fears he will be labeled as “less than.” Any suggestions? From a parent’s perspective, it’s hard to watch someone you love deliberately refuse help that you know would be beneficial.

    • #98137

      I agree with fire moons. You obviously care for your son and want the best for him. I’m 44 now but at his age I would have felt pushed and judged every time you hinted at or mentioned getting a job and I would have felt more and more of a failure.

      Growing up with ADHD is never being good enough, never able to “live up to your potential” and continually failing. By 22 I was a heroin addict and living on the streets. I know how fantastic it is that your son graduated (I didn’t manage to graduate and then tried again and still didn’t) but I would be really surprised if he feels that way. The people around him didn’t take 6 years. He probably feels like a failure even though you don’t see him that way.

      If he didn’t have ADHD, not to mention the emotional issues on top, then maybe stronger action would be in order but he isn’t a typical lazy kid. Four months isn’t long. Maybe some basic rules for contributing to the house in terms of cleaning and such and a time frame for when he has to look for work. That way both of you can have some time with the issue of the table.

    • #98913
      Dad of ADHD Son

      Thanks for your advice, everyone.

      My sister (the non-mentally ill one) said that if I was going to work on my son, other things would have to be pushed aside. I’m stretched too thin, and can’t do everything. It’s very difficult to delegate many legal things I’m doing because of power of attorney and executor restrictions, and my mother is being stubborn about accepting help, as most elderly are when they reach the point where they really can’t be independent any more.

      To answer a few of your questions:

      Yes, I have been getting counseling. I have PTSD, plus caretaker burnout, and last time I saw my therapist, I told him that I simply wanted to get out of this family. Wanting to run away is a classic symptom of caretaker burnout. One thing he brought up earlier when I mentioned my son’s behavior is that I should cut myself some slack for not working with my son and helping him to move along, because I am taking care of so many other people (living, deceased and mentally ill).

      Regarding my son: he did get good accommodations from the first and 3rd college he attended (the first was an ADHD college, which he attended for a year before transferring to a traditional college). He was diagnosed with ADHD in Kindergarten, and has been medicated since 2nd grade, so this has not been a new discovery.

      I hired an ADHD coach for him when he started at his 3rd college. Six weeks after he graduated, I rehired her, and she is working with him, and establishing goals, which he makes little attempt at completing.

      His behavior is really no different than it has been since he was 12. Without enormous pressure, he does nothing. I have found that praise lets him feel like he is off the hook, and after praise, he goes back to entropy.

      Despite the in-depth look that Firemoons gave (very insightful) and Mary.n.ben gave (the comment essentially saying that you’re never good enough when you have ADHD was helpful, even though I’ve heard it before and been trying to convince him otherwise for years, pointing out his strengths), I think I align myself more with Penny and an approach of setting some boundaries.

      A lot of people – very successful people never feel they are good enough (Trump …), by the way, and a lot of people with ADHD can become wildly successful (many other U.S. presidents, as well as trend-creating company CEO’s, have had ADHD …).

      The next part is going to be counter to what some of you have said. Three mental health professionals told me to strongly consider forcing my sister to go to a homeless center, because hitting bottom often has to occur before changes will be made with a non-compliant mentally ill person. For perspective, she had been hospitalized for 3 weeks and released with no place to go, because we had made deal with her landlord that charges wouldn’t be pressed against her after she caused $20,000 in damage in a day if she would vacate the cottage she had been renting. She was living in my other sister’s house and resisting doing anything to get better. When after 3 months, I finally got a cushy, for-pay (expensive) treatment center to accept her, she balked at going, and that was when we were at our wit’s end.

      Finally, my father, who had cancer at the time, told her he was going to cut off her inheritance if she didn’t move out of my sister’s house and go to the treatment program. My parents had been subsidizing her and rescuing her for over 25 years, and she was expecting them to continue; she planned to live her life as she always had, continually relapsing and falling apart, and using my parents as a safety net until she got this wake up call that the rescues were not going to continue.

      And although people told us that forcing a person into treatment wouldn’t work, it has so far. She liked it after only a few days, and 20 months later, she is medication compliant and much better (she’s still narcissistic, entitled and can be rude, but that’s far better than delusional and bizarre, and she still seems to improving and is becoming more personable).

      Unfortunately, I don’t really have time to work on my son or help my son (if that is possible). He is going to have to want it himself, and unfortunately, making him comfortable has always led to him moving into the lounging mode.

      I don’t know if there is an easy answer.

    • #98916

      Hey, I’m glad you wrote again. Full disclosure – I have not written on an ADHD forum before so keep that in mind.

      I’m completely changing my opinion on this; the first time I reacted with the memory of my own frustration, working and trying, to the point of a nervous breakdown by the end of high school and still being told that all I had to do was to make an effort.

      You know what though? I wasn’t diagnosed until I was in my late twenties and my daughter was 2 before I went on medication. I have an extreme case too. After growing up without knowing I had ADHD, not knowing that other people find things so easy and with no understanding or accomodations, the thought of being able to grow up the way your son did sounds like a dream. And having an ADHD coach!!! That would be fantastic.

      Maybe he does need to grow up to an extent. As I said, I’m going the other way now, but it is one thing to support him- place to live and a coach- and another to do it for him.

    • #98925

      What does he like to do? What interests him? What is his degree in?

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