Why Is It So Hard For My Child With ADHD To Leave The House On Time?

Why is it so hard for my child with ADHD to leave the house on time?

Last week, I went through all the things I usually do to help my son transition out of the house.

He had a doctor’s appointment at 2:00 PM.

We needed to leave the house at 1:30 PM in order to find parking and be in the waiting room by 1:55 PM.

At 1:15 PM, I ask this child to get his shoes on. (I know it can easily take 15 minutes to get shoes on.) 

Y’all, it still wasn’t enough.

He needed to do some pull-ups and snuggle his dog. He remembered a snack he’d abandoned about 4 hours prior. He thought maybe he better check his hair in the upstairs bathroom (did I mention he is a teenager now?).

At about 1:25 PM, my rule following, always wants to be on time but almost never is these days heart, began to race a bit. I tried to cajole him. I kept reminding him about the shoes. I gently tried to physically place myself between him and the rest of the house.

On this day, none of it mattered. 

You see the socks had “clump nuggets” and aggravated his sensory issues. Then the shoes didn’t feel quite right. Finally, the anxiety over the doctor’s appointment itself kicked in. 

We got the shoes on around 1:40 PM (yes, almost a half an hour later) and were a solid ten minutes late to the appointment. The craziest part? The entire drive there, he was concerned about how late we were and a little bitter towards me for making it so. 

There are some moments in my motherhood that, no matter what, I cannot win.

Getting out the door is one of them.

child leave house on time

If you do not have a child with attention issues, this may seem extreme, lazy, or even an example of my poor parenting skills.

If you do have a child with attention issues, you are nodding your head and saluting me with your cup of coffee right now.

One of the most basic elements of parenting a child with ADHD is helping them manage time – and trust me, it is an ongoing need. 

Although I wasn’t surprised last week when we were late to our appointment, again, I did ask myself a question I have asked over and over.

Why is it so difficult for my child with ADHD to leave the house on time, no matter what I do to try and help?

It is So Hard For My Child With ADHD To Leave The House On Time

For the past week, I have been thinking through how I would answer this question if I were asked it by another mom. In doing so, I have been reminded and even comforted to remember that there are some very valid reasons for this daily struggle.

It is So Hard For My Child With ADHD To Leave The House On Time

These five points are what I want to remember the next time we can’t get out of the house on time.

1. Time Means Something Different To My Son

It is a proven, well researched fact that the passage of time and perception of time is quite different for someone with ADHD. Often referred to as “time blindness,” it has been said that ADHD actually disrupts the passage of time. 

For my child, this looks like a ton of questions and confusion around how long an hour really is, and stress over not knowing how long it will “feel.”

It is So Hard For My Child With ADHD To Leave The House On Time
I have an entire post about time blindness and our day to day experience HERE

For my child, this is a constant battle. Accepting this, rather than getting frustrated and impatient, is important if I am to truly understand and help him. 

2. My Stress Will Only Increase His Stress

I was able to stay calm and not lose it last week, but please know, this is not always the case. I have my own emotions and feelings related to being late and having to deal with the glaring receptionist. Sometimes, these emotions get the best of me and I show signs of stress in my words and demeanor.

This does not help. 

I repeat, for my own benefit as much as yours, this does not help.

When I show that my stress levels are increasing, his do as well. When that happens, the chance of focusing and getting out the door significantly decreases.

Instead, I try to remember to speak in a low calm voice, remind myself that it is not the end of the world if we are late, and try to position myself at the door as I help him move from one task to the next. 

3. Attention Issues Are Real

This may seem silly, but sometimes, I have to remind myself that my child is not purposely making this exit a challenge. He has a brain difference that effects his ability to focus, stay on task and perceive time. Of course this is something we need to work on. 

4. Sensory Issues Are Real

The same is equally true for sensory issues. 

When the “clump nugget” in the sock derails our departure, I have to remind myself that my son experiences the socks differently than I do. His level of discomfort is significantly greater than mine might be, and he needs help navigating it.

4. Like It Or Not, My Child Needs Accommodation

Because of all the factors I’ve shared, leaving the house is not a straightforward event for my child. When you look at this list, it seems obvious that he requires some accommodation and learning in order to be more adept at it. 

Rather than waiting until 1:15 PM next time, I might start at 1:00 PM. Or, I might have him get his shoes on and play outside before we plan to leave so that one step is eliminated. 

No matter what I decide, embracing the need for accommodation is the very best way to ensure that we leave the house smoothly, and most importantly, that my son learns over time how to do it on his own.

It is So Hard For My Child With ADHD To Leave The House On Time

In the meantime, I expect we will be late again – maybe less often than before, but still, late.

My son and I are both just doing the best we can everyday.

For more resources on parenting a child with ADHD:

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  1. Julia Garland says:

    Ugh. This. Always. And then compounded by when my son does get ready on time (or early) he cannot tolerate waiting for others to catch up with him! And- when it is something he is very excited about he will use strategies to be ready on time. Which makes him super early- up to an hour!- and then he cannot tolerate waiting. Ugh.

  2. My son is 23 has ADHD and an intellectual disability and still the same issues. He has a part-time job so it is imperative we leave on time! I had to laugh out loud at what you wrote “ The entire drive there, he was concerned about how late we were and a little bitter towards me for making it so. ” So true! Even though I have been nudging/bugging him along for hours-it’s my fault. I found if I award him if we are on time we will do this _____.

  3. Karen Thompson says:

    This! It doesn’t seem to matter how well I prepare or how much time I allow and it makes me NUTS! I used to be so conscientious about time, so being late (and so often!) has been difficult for me to tolerate.

  4. Our son had been diagnosed with RAD, PTSD and ADHD prior to joining our family. At the time, I knew very little about ADHD, aside from what most people are vaguely aware of, attention deficit. The RAD and PTSD were our primary focus with him for the last 6 years. Years of learning to parent a child from hard places plus additional life stresses finally had me contacting our family therapist for myself. She worked with us for a number of years as a family unit working to help our son heal from past trauma, so she knew me rather well already. After talking a bit and her taking detailed notes, she diagnosed me with ADHD, primarily inattentive type. After that I started to learn more and more about ADHD and how those of us with it think differently than those without it. It explained so much of my life up until now. And then I started to better understand some of the things our son deals with. Time blindness is a very real thing and it’s not easy to live in a world that uses time to run practically everything. A world where not adhering to the normal concept of time can have less than desirable consequences. I’ve struggled with this all of my life, and our son is the same way. On top of time blindness, comes the inability to focus or concentrate consistently and poor working memory. So even when I can manage to focus here and there, my ability to remember and recall things is lacking, so it feels as if the focus is pointless. I can see similar struggles with our son. What this looks like for me is something like this: we need to run into town for groceries and on the way, deposit a check at the bank, which is only open until 4pm. My husband will remind me over and over again to make sure I’m ready to leave by 3:15 so we aren’t late to the bank. 2:30, still working and figuring I have at least forever to get shoes and a jacket on and that I can be ready in 0 seconds. 3:00, same thing, despite my husband’s attempts to get me going. 3:20 and he’ll make a comment about it being late, I’ll realize the time and wonder how it got so late and I still have to find my shoes and jacket and OMG we’re late! Run out the door, get part way to the bank only to realize I’ve forgotten my wallet and the check. It’s not that I didn’t care to get ready or didn’t care enough to remember my wallet and check. But for me, time is one of two things: now and not now. There is no in between. Our son is the same way. As for forgetting things like my wallet, well, poor working memory. It’s frustrating as all heck for me, and my husband gets so frustrated, which makes me feel worse. ADHD can be extremely stressful for the person with it as well as friends and family that don’t have it. And stress can make the symptoms worse. Hugs to people struggling with it, and to the family members (moms and dads especially) learning how to work with it rather than against it.

  5. Yes. This. I have 3 kids with ADHD. It is overwhelming at times and feels hard to accomplish anything that brings us all together.

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