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What I Wish People Would Stop Saying To My Child With ADHD

People can be dismissive, judgmental and downright mean when it comes to my child with ADHD. It breaks my heart. 

My son was in a gymnastics class last year.

He loved moving his body. He loved the other kids. He loved feeling accomplished at the end.

Although he loved all of these things, he still struggled to get out the door every Saturday morning. Attention issues make dressing and eating difficult when you can barely sit still with excitement. Then, crippling anxiety would grip him about five minutes before we needed to leave, every single week.

After deep breathing, talking through ways to cope, getting him into the car, getting him to sit down and seat belt in, and driving to the gym, we were usually about five minutes late to class.

I considered that a win.

The coach however (and I use the term “coach” loosely here – this was a beginning tumbling class and the teacher looked like a teenager himself) did not.

When my son arrived late for the third time, the coach started to yell, in front of the entire class, as he walked out to the gym mat.

“You’re late! Again! Just for that, you can give me ten push-ups.”

With terror on his face, my son did the push-ups.

Through tears of anger and frustration, I watched, not knowing how to respond. “If you knew how hard he worked to get here this morning, you would be congratulating and not punishing him,” I thought.

What I Wish People Would Stop Saying To My Child With ADHD #adhd #learningdifferences #inclusion

This kind of thing happens all the time. There are many situations with kids at school, in extracurriculars, and at church, that we publicly take for granted. There are certain phrases used all the time with my sons that show a lack of understanding and empathy for kids in general, and specifically for children with learning differences.

What I Wish People Would Stop Saying To My Child With ADHD

You’re Not Paying Attention

Or repeating “pay attention” over and over. If a child has attention issues, then paying attention is going to be a challenge, especially in a room with other children and lots of other things to do. No child with ADHD ever pays attention just because someone tells them to. My son has to be engaged and often allowed to move (not sit quietly or stand still in line) in order to really be able to focus. No matter how many times someone asks him to, he will not simply be able to “pay attention.” It’s the reason he has a diagnosis.

You’re Always Late

I struggle with this one – mostly because I try to be early everywhere I go. I hate being late. I want to respect other people’s time. I understand the importance of this and do not think my son should receive special treatment.

Having said that, my son is going to be late sometimes, for reasons that are far beyond his control. If a child is being transported by the parent, how can he possibly be the one in control of being on time anyway? Even without any differences, a child cannot drive herself to class or school. A parent is responsible for it. Every single time I hear a young child being “talked to” about being late, I cringe because I think the conversation is better had with the parent.

You Need To Try Harder

I want to scream when someone says this to my child with ADHD (or any child) and here’s why. My son works harder than any other child I know, day in and day out, with less progress. My son works hard just to shower and show up. He doesn’t need to be told to try harder. Maybe, “I want you to try again,” but please don’t tell my son to “try harder.” It implies knowledge that you simply do not have about his intent and ability.

Don’t Be So Lazy

Between sensory issues and chronic illness, my oldest son often appears to be lazy. He asks for help in basic tasks. He doesn’t want to get up and go outside. He often appears to just be a lazy teenager. And I am sure he is – sometimes. But assuming laziness first helps no one. Honestly, its derogatory and rude.

Now that my rant is over, let me say this – I have some grace for all the folks that have said these things to my children. I am sure I have said the same things, in the past , as well. These statements are an unfortunate part of our cultural interactions with children. It’s why I am writing this. I want to challenge these statements that we too often take for granted. 

I went up to my son’s coach after class that day and apologized for our lateness. I explained a little bit about my son’s differences and asked if, in the future, he would talk to me about any concerns he has with lateness, rather than my son. He sheepishly said, “Yeah, I guess it’s not really his fault anyway. It’s not like he’s driving himself here.”

I am learning to speak up. It helps my son to be sure.

I hope it helps us all.

For more on the day to day realities of mothering children with differences:

When You Want To Quit (and you will want to quit)

It’s Not Always Forward – Mothering A Regressive Child

How Do I Help My Anxious Child?

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  1. So, first of all, I never leave comments on anything….but….I have to this time. I love to read the blogs and comments from others and move on. I don’t have children that have serious disorders or anything like that. I just have regular boys. I am the one like your son. I am the one that signs up for things that I have interest in and when the time gets here….. I cannot get it together. I have panic attacks and chest tightening and… Yes, I get it! My husband and kids do not, however, understand. I have heard the comments and stuff. Thank you for the post. Just wanted your son to know grownups have the same issue…

    1. Donna, I am honored that you decided to leave a comment for me today. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I did share it with my son. 🙂

  2. Dee Courtwright says:

    I would have no grace for monsters. None of the words spoken were words of encouragement and strengthen. Tough love is NOT how to teach or train a single soul. Your rant is valid. I’ve reported Gymnastics instructors before. Informed the Manager that they (three “high ranking” teens) don’t need to work with children if they can’t even smile at them. Even in College I had my fair share of sports under a Pharoah of a Coach who literally barked at us as if we were dogs. God gave me the strength to declare that I quit, and toss my shoes at her while walking out of the gym. Out of a toxic situation. There is a better place for our kids. A better place for all of us.

    1. I understand what you are saying, Dee. There have been many occasions where it felt unhealthy and wrong. I would always pull my son immediately. This is more for the situations that are working, but these types of comments still exist. It is crazy to me that this is such a normalized part of how we treat children.

  3. Love, Love the post. So hard to give grace to someone who isn’t giving grace to our kids because they don’t have the same difficulties.
    On being late – I’m trying to always plan to get wherever early so I have time to sit in the car and decompress… just driving is stressful (it helps to deep breathe while driving but I don’t want to be toooo relaxed 😉 Then if that early decompression time is lost I’m not frantic at least… could you plan to be wherever 30 min. early and bring something that your son would be doing at home (and would set him up for the activity)?
    A thought… sounds like you’re doing a great job Mama 🙂

    1. Great advice, Ann! I usually try and cut it close because my son hates to wait and gets anxious – but your right. If I just made the waiting time an activity in and of itself, we might be able to pull it off. Thanks for the recommendation. 🙂

  4. This was really good. I can relate to so much of this from when my oldest was younger (he has autism an ADHD).

  5. I really needed to see this today. Just this week, me and my 10 year old son showed up for a new karate class that he had been eagerly anticipating, and he panicked at the number of people and trying to walk past the horde of parents sitting there watching the kids. I felt so bad for him as I knew how much he really wanted to participate but just couldn’t. We tried again last night– and this time had success! We got there super early so he was the first one there and had time to get used to all the people arriving. He was the most serious little ninja you ever saw, and I thought my heart would burst with pride watching him in the gym last night. Most people don’t know the effort it took for him to do it.

    1. This makes me tear up a little, in all the right ways. Thank you so much for sharing, Jill.

  6. Teresa Engle says:

    You handled that SO well! Extending grace is hard sometimes esp when it’s our kids. I can honestly say I don’t think I would have handled it well at all. Thank you for setting a good example for the rest of us and your kids!

    1. Well, thank you. As my boys are getting older, I find I am so much more likely to try and educate and inform. I worry for them when I am not around to advocate for them.

  7. I’m so sorry your son has had these experiences. As someone who works with kids, it can be tough when a parent doesn’t let me know ahead of time of a child’s limitations or issues or quirks or needs, and instead I have to find out the hard way (like when the child is yelling out in the middle of an engaging large group teaching time with 75 other preteens in the room). I would hope that coach would have been more sensitive if he had been given advance warning. I absolutely love to help all kinds of kids succeed, and I would love for parents to give me a heads up that their child might need special attention or extra grace. These days are a difficult time to work with kids, as the differences between kids the same age seem to be broadening. I’m sure it’s really difficult to be a parent of a kid who is different from most and needs more grace and attention.

    1. He was aware of them in advance – and really was great for the most part. I just don’t think he connected lateness to any difference. In fairness, he would’ve made every kid in the class do the push-ups. I think that’s what made it feel so futile.

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