ADHD Comes With So Much Shame And We Need To End That

by Colleen Dilthey Thomas
Originally Published: 

If you have a child with ADHD, you know that it is more than just being a bit forgetful and fidgety. ADHD is a complex condition that is different for every person. When you say your child has ADHD, people tend to impose their thoughts on the condition and they are often uninformed, or just plain wrong.

As a parent of two children with ADHD, I can tell you that no two diagnoses are the same and neither are the treatment plans. And while they are both different, there is one thing that they have in common: they both experience a lot of shame.

Children with ADHD are not complacent. They don’t want to be forgetful. They want to do their work, but sometimes their brains just don’t allow that to happen. Two of my boys have ADHD and I have seen this happen so many times in our home. When they don’t get things done, and sometimes simply can’t, there is so much shame that comes along with it. They feel like they have failed because they’re unable to get the simplest of tasks completed. As a parent, it is heartbreaking to watch.

“For people with ADHD, shame arises from the repeated failure to meet expectations from parents, teachers, friends, bosses, and the world,” says Dr. William Dobson for ADDitude. “It is estimated that those with ADHD receive 20,000 more negative messages by age 10 than they do positive messages. They view themselves as fundamentally different and flawed. They are not like other people.”

I have watched my oldest son’s self-esteem take a considerable hit due to what I believe is his ADHD guilt. He struggles with remembering to do homework and other tasks that should just come naturally. We got him an Apple Watch for his birthday to help with reminders. When it buzzes he is supposed to drop everything and do the scheduled task. Sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn’t. He is often distracted by something else and will just hit snooze. When I have to remind him of things that he has missed he often gets upset with himself. It is hard for him and for me.

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He takes medication, but that isn’t a cure-all. Sure, it helps, but it hasn’t changed who he is as a person, nor do I want it to. I just wish that things were easier for him. This is a daily struggle that he doesn’t appear to be outgrowing any time soon. His doctors have said that this is a possibility, but I can’t imagine it.

Because he is different, he gets down on himself. He compares himself to his friends and siblings that don’t have what he calls “problems.” I try to explain to him that his brain is just wired differently, but that doesn’t bring much comfort. He just sees himself as the kid who can’t keep himself organized or do things on time or remember his homework. My boy feels like he is always doing something wrong and is always in trouble. That is my fault.

He has been seeing a counselor who, for the first time, is breaking through to him. This counselor sees his intelligence and explains things to him in terms that he understands. He has explained the parts of the brain that control his ADHD and why his brain isn’t working the same way as some of his friends’. There has been so much progress in his self-esteem as he is beginning to understand that this isn’t his fault, but he can help himself.

Self-help is a big deal in our situation. He likes to blame his actions on his ADHD and the fact that his medication has worn off and any other excuse that he can come up with to blow off his behavior. His new counselor is teaching him not to do that. He is helping him to work on himself and to retrain his brain so that he can remember and he can follow through and not just quit because things are hard. It is a challenge, but he is trying. That’s all that I can ask for.

ADHD is so complicated and there is so much information out there, both good and bad. I recently found a TikTok account that has shed great light on the world of ADHD. In 60-second clips, I have learned a lot about what my boys are going through. Things are a bit easier for my younger son, but it isn’t all wine and roses. He struggles too, just differently. But the guilt and the shame are both there and they make me sad.

Every day I am working with my kids to help them with their day-to-day struggles and to build them up emotionally. It can be a tough task, but I always remind them that they are smart and they are strong and they are worthwhile, because they are. I don’t look at them as failures simply because they think differently than I do. They are not lesser than their siblings who do not have ADHD. My boys are just as worthy of praise and love as anyone else is.

Self-esteem can be tricky during the tween and teenage years without the added pressure of ADHD. Yes, medication can help to manage some of the behaviors and so can counseling, but as a parent, I have to constantly reinforce that their differences don’t make them weak, they make them individuals. And that is OK. ADHD does not define them, it challenges them. Life is full of challenges and we will continue to fight this battle together and walk away with a greater sense of self-worth because the changes are coming from within.

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