How to motivate college-age child with ADD & depression

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    • #92442

      I need help! My son is 20 and still can’t keep more than one thing in his head at a time. I worry that he will never be independent.

      My son was diagnosed with ADD in elementary school. He struggled through grade school, but managed with medication and constant coaching from us. While his ADD made him seem flighty often, he has always been very conscientious and had a strong desire to succeed in life. He graduated from high school with a B average, after which we sent him 30 minutes away to a satellite campus of a state college, where he majored in engineering (which is a very difficult program).

      He struggled his first semester, but passed with Cs. But his second semester he stopped going to class without our knowing. He just couldn’t get out of bed. We barely got him withdrawn in time before he flunked out. That was 3 months ago. He’s now been diagnosed with depression and is medicated for that as well and is receiving therapy. He’s now at home and decided to take the fall semester off. Given his lack of progress, I doubt he will be able to go back to school in the spring.

      Most days he still struggles to get out of bed, even with our help. Once he’s up, he doesn’t seem to have any motivation for anything. He has volunteered with a political campaign, which he seemed very passionate about for a time, but now he struggles to stay engaged. Even chores around the house and landscaping jobs are a struggle for him. He frequently retreats into his room to play video games.

      I know the depression is separate from the ADD, but I wonder if his struggle with ADD led to the depression. Even without the depression, he still can’t seem to hold more than one task in his mind (even when medicated), and he’s only slightly better if he makes lists. I have little patience with him and my frustration only exacerbates his shame. But I worry that he is never going to be independent. I don’t know when to give him a hug and when to kick him in the butt.

      Any advice would be appreciated.

    • #92452

      I don’t have any answers. Your post is our life right now. I wish I knew what to do.

    • #92456

      I have a very similar situation with my 22 yr old son, except that he didn’t even try college. Graduated high school (homeschooled) 3 yrs ago, and has had a series of dead-end retail jobs since then. Current job is only 8 – 10 hrs. a week, and he spends the rest of the time at home on the computer playing video games, watching YouTube videos, etc. Is medicated for both his ADHD and depression, and seeing a good counselor once a week. But he is still quite unmotivated. Not sure if he’s unable or unwilling to do more…..a blend of both, I suspect. His Dad and I have tried various things to help him become more independent, but have come to believe that he needs more structured help and professional guidance than we can offer here at home. So we are seriously considering a program for young men called Forte Strong. It is for young adult men who are experiencing “Failure to Launch”, which is a serious thing, and not to be confused with the silly Sarah Jessica Parker movie a few years ago. This is not an ad for the program, we don’t even know for sure if our son will be willing to go and/or be accepted. But I can sense the desperation in the above two posts (and relate to it completely) so just wanted to mention this as a possibility to look into. It’s so good to have other parents on this site who understand, and want to help and support each other. I will try to post an update in the future if my son does go to Forte Strong. Best of luck to you, and to all of us!

    • #92498
      Penny Williams

      ADHD struggles can lead to depression, but depression can also be a stand-alone condition in addition to ADHD.

      Is It ADHD, Depression, or Both?

      What he needs now are some successes. If his interest has waned in the volunteer work he was doing, it’s time to find another opportunity he’s interested in. He may have thought he was interested in politics but found he really wasn’t after some time. Exploring lots of different areas will help him determine what he’d be happy doing in his life. Successes can help with confidence, self-esteem, and the depression.

      It seems like he’s hit the “why bother” point when he wasn’t succeeding at what he wanted to do or thought he needed to do. Get him involved in activities and areas of interest — encourage and support that in every way possible.

      Step Up to the Plate: Finding Success With ADHD

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

      • #92515

        Thank you! I think that’s great advice and something I especially needed to hear.

      • #92540

        Hi Penny, Don’t know if it’s just me, but every time you post a response, a couple inches of text are covered up by the vertical banners on the right-hand side of page. (Recommended articles, recent discussions, ads, etc.) It’s frustrating, cuz I can’t see your complete sentences, and have to guess/extrapolate as to what you were saying. Don’t have this problem with any posts by participants, they all show completely. Not sure why this should happen with moderator posts. Could you please look into this? I’ve tried everything I can think of on my end, with no luck. So it seems like it may be something related to how the ADDitude discussion forum is set up, a technical website issue perhaps? Many thanks for your help!

      • #92639
        Penny Williams

        I forwarded this on to ADDitude staff to see if they can troubleshoot.

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

    • #92567

      Hi there,

      I am a 26 year old female with ADD, depression, and anxiety. I went through this struggle early in my college career and I am going through this struggle again in early adulthood.

      I think there are a number of reasons why we struggle with motivation, but this is simply reflection and speculation based upon my own experience.
      I think one major issue for me was and is finding a passion for something. It is well known that people with ADD have a strange ability to hyper focus on tasks they are interested in and have very little ability to focus on something that does not peak their interest. Once I found a major which utilized my hyperfocus, I was able to power through school. I was still slower than most and failed at least one class a semester, but if I had been studying business or engineering instead of design I most definitely would have dropped out due to complete boredom. My GE’s were a struggle, I just felt like a was redoing high school and it sucked to get through.
      In addition, I have found that each phase of life calls for a different method of organization and structure. Each time I shifted to a new phase in life I was completely lost. I no longer knew how to keep track of things, which just caused a downward spiral into giving up altogether. My boyfriend found ADDitude for me and it has really helped me to organize as an adult with ADD because the suggestions are specific to our common issues of organization and time management.

      Moreover, it seems as though our 20’s are our time to figure ourselves out as adults. Of course we continue learning beyond our 20’s, but so far my 20’s have felt like I’ve been swimming in the open sea looking for land, sometimes landing on a small island that I think is home only to realized I’m still in the middle of effing nowhere. Maybe by our 30’s we’re nearing shore.
      My mother has had the same struggle with me as you do with your son. She would constantly be telling me what I needed to do but the thing was I knew what I needed to do, I just had a lot of issues I needed to deal with first before I could get there. I know her intentions were good but they only worked to exacerbate my shame, anxiety, and doubt in myself. Recently she has backed off and it has allowed me the space to work through the causes of my depression, leading me to feel far more prepared for the workplace so hopefully I can get a job and keep it for more than a few months.

      It may seem as though your son doesn’t care but if he’s anything like me he probably is doing nothing because he cares a little too much. After a lifetime of being reprimanded for things we don’t have much control over, we shy away from trying anything new because failure after failure is exhausting to our confidence.
      I could imagine that your son feels as though his worth is entirely wrapped up in his ability to succeed in academics or business and that his inability to do so right now is causing him a lot of hurt. I am sure he is also doing a lot of comparing himself to his classmates from high school on social media and wondering why he cannot also be traveling, learning, and meeting new people. He will get there with a supportive family.

      Basically what I am trying to say is that this is very normal, especially for those of us in our early 20’s with ADD. He needs time and space to figure things out. I find reading about ADD helps me to learn how to forgive myself and not take everything so seriously, leading me to take important risks and steps forward in life. I often read books on mindfulness by authors such as Ekhart Tolle or Alan Watts which helps me learn how to clear some of the constant noise in my mind. I also think that as a parent you may feel the burden of helping your son to succeed, but in truth there is only so much you can do, and you have to learn to forgive yourself as well. His success or failure should not be your success or failure, though it will probably always feel that way. Your son is an adult now with the ability to make his own choices. Offer your support, offer your understanding, be willing to help when he asks, but don’t push too hard or it may cause him to retreat or rebel. All we really want is for sometime to understand.

      I hope this helps!

      • #92577

        Thank you! This really resonates. I think I’ve known for a while, deep inside at least, that what you are saying is right, but I’ve kept pushing him because of my own conditioning or because I think it’s what a parent is supposed to do or whatever. I’ve got to be done with that and just be a support for him and let go of what neither of us can control.

      • #92640
        Penny Williams

        Yes!!!!! We have to throw out every belief of what “parents are supposed to do” and “what childhood is supposed to be” and “what success looks like” when parenting kids with ADHD (and “high-functioning” autism). As long as you’re stuck in supposed to and should zones, you can succeed and your child’s success could be delayed (or even derailed). So very important!

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

    • #92645

      There may be more than depression/anxiety at play here. Is there an executive functioning deficit? Without EF it is impossible to plan and create goals and carry them out. Young adult hood is difficult for neuro-typical kids too. I have 3 young adults at home and they have had similar issues. All had EF issues along with ADD, and language disorders. One was also dyslexic another has high functioning autism. EF held them back more than anything. Having EF skills can help overcome the depression/anxiety piece.
      I enrolled all of them at different times in the Arrowsmith program and it really helped.

      My oldest with the severest LDs/ADD went back to community college, raised his failing GPA and got a certificate. He just got hired as a special ed teachers aide.

      My ASD son returned to college and is now in a four year college about 3 semesters away from a degree in economics which is a major he loves.

      I don’t mean to sound like a commercial but its the only program that really deals with executive function in a successful way. Everything else I tried, accommodations special programs etc just did not work for them.

    • #98081

      As someone with ADHD, college is pure torture. You need to find his passion. I highly reccomend 1/2 to 3/4 load of classes so he has enough time to recoup between and get stuff done. I’d reccomend setting him up with a counselor who specializes in adhd generally they can point you to someone who can help him with his classes. The only way you’re going to get him to graduate is to make sure to appeal to his adhd. You need to remember we dont get motivated by the same things you do. Personally, competition and somehow making it interesting always drove me the most but it’s different for everyone. You sent him away and while 30 min isnt that far hes essentially on his own. He probably needs help, someone to make sure to set and keep a schedule, help him make sure he can set up his work/studying to get it done in a way that appeals to him. Hes never been on his own before and I feel like that’s a huge setup for failure.

      For everyone else who’s kid doesn’t wanna go to classes, etc. Make them! Dont throw them into a full load to begin with but have them take general courses and either do a lot of research andhelp them or find specialists who can. We need a good kick in the ass sometimes to get stuff done. Just make sure they know you love them and want what’s best for them.

      • #100624

        How do you “ make them “ do anything ? Ex – go to class – any advice ?
        We tried rewards , taking away privileges- any other ideas ? Thanks

    • #100683

      My husband did something similar when he was in college the first time. Stopped going to classes and didn’t tell anyone until the semester was over. Had a less than .50 GPA. The next year, he moved to a different state to a school for a major he was passionate about and finished with a 3.75. He rocked it. I was completely different. Stayed in college for 6 years floundering around trying to figure things out and ended with a 2.3 GPA in major that I liked but wasn’t very useful.

      Now, we’re both in our 30s. He has a good job that he enjoys, completely unrelated to his degree, and I am back in school working on my Masters for a career I love. Point is, 20s are a hard age for ADDers. Most of our peers have some idea of what they want to do and have the skills to go after it. We mature much slower, and at 21-22 still very much think like children while feeling like we should be ready for more independence. Trying to think of all the next steps can be overwhelming. Transitioning to adulthood is hard, and when you have ADHD, it can feel like you’re stuck under a mountain of responsibilities you have no idea how to do. What’s worse is watching all of your friends fly by you in maturity. Even if you know you have ADHD, you can still have a feeling of “What’s wrong with me?” “Why can’t I just get it together like everybody else?”

      It might be helpful to sit down and have an honest discussion with him about what he wants out of this stage of life. He doesn’t have to have it all figured out now, but I’m sure there’s something he wants. Showing little respect for his autonomy and desire for independence can go a long way. Knowing that someone has your back, even if you fail, can give you the courage to take risks and determination to keep going.

      I was depressed a few years ago. I finally got sick of being miserable and decided to figure out how to help myself. I did tons of online research. One of the most helpful things was sitting down and writing out what I wanted my life to look like in 10 years. Career goals, friendship goals, relationship goals, personal goals, finance goals, etc. Then, I picked a few of the things that were most important to me and wrote out steps for how to get there. Then I took a step. A teeny-tiny baby step. I think the first thing I did was repaint a dresser for the living room so we could have “a more organized and beautiful home.” Lol. 🙂 When I succeeded at that one, I felt a little better about myself. When my husband cheered me on, I felt more confident.

      Then I took another step. Baby steps. I took a low-level part time job in a career I was interested in. Now, I am doing things I never thought I could. I’m in graduate school, making all A’s with no medicine and no therapist. (I don’t recommend this for everyone. It just works for me.) We’ve saved up enough money for a great vacation and to keep me from working full time while I’m in school. I’m proud of me. Those little successes, finding out that I COULD do the little stuff that seemed so hard, helped pull me out of my depression. Having my husband and my dad cheering me on helped me hang in there when it got hard and I felt like things might just fall apart.

      I don’t know if your son’s story will be anything like mine or my husband’s, but I hope this encourages you. The 20s are a challenging time for ADHDers, but you CAN make it out alive. Once we hit about 30, our brains catch up with our peers a little more and things can balance out. The 20s are a great time for trying a lot of different things and finding out which ones interest you. It’s okay if he doesn’t have it all figured out now. He just has to start working on figuring it out. 🙂

      One last note.
      The trend nowadays is to go to college right after high school then get a job. That didn’t work for me or my husband. ADHDers do well with a goal. We need to know WHY we are doing things. Preparing for who knows what doesn’t make sense in our brains. We both needed to enter school with a clear career in mind in order to be successful. So, taking some time to try different jobs out is really helpful. Especially if there’s no pressure. We like challenges, so having fun learning a variety of different skills for a few years is a great use of time. It gives us the chance to slowly learn new life skills (paying bills, maintaining an apartment, time management). Eventually, we’ll find a career that we love. It just clicks. Once it clicks, we are way more determined to reach whatever goal we’ve set. Plus, most people switch careers at least 2-3 times in their lives now. These monumental decisions in your 20s aren’t nearly as monumental as they seem. You just have to get that momentum started. 🙂

    • #100686

      One more thing… “Just make them” never worked for me. I’m a fighter. Even at 5 years old, I could out-stubborn any adult. No one has ever been able to make me do anything I didn’t intrinsically want to do. The only way I’ve ever been able to find motivation is if it came from something inside me. Any passion, interest, compassion, or curiosity, and I was unstoppable. That stubbornness turns into determination.

      Accountability is good. I need accountability. But that’s different. It’s more like a check in of “how are things going? how can i help you succeed?”

      Besides… If you’re just forcing your kids to show up to something they don’t care about, how much are they really getting out of it?

    • #112094

      We are living a similiar story. My 22yr old son dropped out of college just before failing out. Shortly after, he fell asleep at the wheel (because he doesn’t sleep at night) and totalled his car. (Thank God he did not get killed.) He moved home where his father got him a high paying job in construction (he does not want to work at a desk). At that point, he was also diagnosed with ADHD and put on Adderall. He bought himself a car and a cell phone. Other than that, his goal was to save as much money as possible and move back to the college town where his friends were in their final year. He did that, did not get a job and, in 3 months, used up all the money he saved. He began doing deliveries for companies like DoorDash and UberEats. One of the problems is that he is not making enough money to cover his bills. He can’t or won’t get a “regular” job with a set schedule and regular paycheck. As far as I can tell,he stays up all night and sleeps most of the day. Based on his weight and how he is when he comes home, he barely eats. He doesn’t really tell us how things are, what’s going on, etc. I think because he is afraid we will try to tell him what to do. He and I had a really good discussion a couple of months ago about how to save money during the month so he can pay his bills but nothing changed. I have offered to help with organization, etc but he says he will let me know if he needs it. Do you have any suggestions for ways I can actually help him?

    • #112118
      Dr. Eric

      It can be both.

      The depression can be its own, stand-alone issue, especially if there is family history and it is a more organic, brain chemistry flavor of depression.

      There is also what we call things “secondary to ADHD”… That is, those things that we know are related to ADHD, but not a direct symptom.

      This can be anything that is the direct result of the frustration of the challenges of ADHD.
      Knowing that you are smart, but not getting the grades, or outcomes, or friends, or etc. due to the ADHD will create frustration, sadness, isolation, etc. that add up. At a certain point, it can become its own issue.

      How to treat it, depends on how related to the ADHD it is, and how much it takes a life of its own.
      If we catch it early, treating the ADHD often is enough, and treating depression without treating the ADHD is often not enough…

      Think of this analogy… if someone is depressed about not having a job, I would help them get a job before talking about their feelings about not having a job.
      I don’t want to see them get a pill that makes them feel ok with unemployment.
      However, if their depression makes it hard to apply to jobs or causes them to do poorly (or not show up) at the interviews, the depression needs to be treated directly.

      If the frustration of life with ADHD is causing you to feel bad about yourself, we want to fix the ADHD.
      However, there will be a tipping point where we need to address both.

      With that said, short of being a danger for self or others, there is little to nothing you can make an adult do outside of being supportive and the person and of treatment.

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