What It’s Really Like To Parent When You Have ADHD

ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in children. According to the charity ADHD UK, it’s thought to impact around 3.62% of boys and 0.85% of girls between the ages of five and 15.

As a result, there’s a lot of helpful research and literature to guide parents who find themselves raising a child with ADHD. However, less is written about parents who themselves have ADHD.

The demographic certainly exists. In fact, while some children no longer display signs of ADHD as adults, it’s estimated that 3.5% of adults in the UK experience ADHD. A small study published in 2016 also found that, of 79 children with ADHD, 41% of their mothers and 51% of their fathers also had the disorder.

To shed some light on the experience of parenting with ADHD, HuffPost spoke to experts about the challenges that parents with ADHD face as they raise children while trying to manage their own symptoms.

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ADHD is underdiagnosed in parents.

“Parents are absolutely under or misdiagnosed, as are many adults in general, because there’s still this misunderstanding that ADHD is a ‘kid’ disorder,” said Michigan-based psychotherapist and ADHD coach Terry Matlen, who herself is a parent with the disorder.

Although the perception has been shifting, we still have a long way to go in giving parents and other adults better access to evaluations and treatments. A number of factors contribute to this issue.

“Many ADHD symptoms overlap with the common experience of parenting,” said therapist Rachael Bloom, who practices in Los Angeles. “All parents talk about dealing with being distracted, overwhelmed, overstimulated, etc. Parents who in fact do meet the criteria for a clinical diagnosis of ADHD often talk themselves out of seeking a diagnosis by telling themselves that what they’re experiencing is normal.”

“The executive function challenges of ADHD and the tasks of parenting are like a double whammy, a setup for overwhelm.”

– Dr. Lidia Zylowska, author and psychiatrist

Someone who grew up in the ’80s, ’90s or earlier was less likely to get a proper diagnosis when they were a child than kids are today. So over time, parents with undiagnosed ADHD likely learned ways to compensate for their symptoms or make themselves seem more “normal” to others.

“A lot of adults have learned to ‘mask’ their ADHD symptoms and often function ‘well enough’ on the outside to have symptoms overlooked,” said Billy Roberts, a therapist at Focused Mind ADHD Counselling in Columbus, Ohio. “In addition, ADHD is challenging to diagnose in adulthood, especially if someone is seen by a provider who does not specialise in adult ADHD. Commonly occurring mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety can mimic symptoms of ADHD and often a thorough testing process is needed to confirm the diagnosis.”

As a result, it’s quite common for parents to receive an ADHD evaluation after their child is diagnosed, as they often recognise their own struggles in their kid’s experience.

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Parents with ADHD often don’t receive a diagnosis until their children are evaluated.

Parents with ADHD may feel like they have to work harder to hold it all together.

“Adults with ADHD can struggle with planning, organisation, prioritising, and focusing in the moment,” Roberts said. “However, for most parents, they find that there isn’t a day that goes by in which they do not need to plan, organise, or problem-solve at a moment’s notice. Consequently, adults with ADHD often feel like they have to work ten times harder to ‘hold it all together,’ as they must compensate for the frustrating parts of ADHD.”

People with ADHD generally have problems with executive function ― the skills related to planning, organisation, time management, decision-making and all the other things it takes to get stuff done.

“As all parents know, having children means managing not just yourself but also your children, often with increased stress or sleep deprivation,” said Dr. Lidia Zylowska, a psychiatrist with the University of Minnesota Medical School and author of “Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD.” “The executive function challenges of ADHD and the tasks of parenting are like a double whammy, a setup for overwhelm.”

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