Have you ever let ADHD define you or your kiddo - even inadvertently? Have you ever finished this sentence: "I have ADHD, that's why I can't _______________"; or "I have ADHD, that's why I'm not _________________." Of course you have, we ALL have at point or another. No judgement here. I used to say, "I have ADHD, that's why I'm not good at school." Or because my son had social delays I would say, "He has ADHD, that's why he's socially awkward."
But I have seen the error in those over-encompassing statements. ADHD is not the only component our social, emotional and mental make-up. There is not a One-Size Fits All when it comes to ADHD. If I look at those statements above as examples - I used to do poor in school, but now I do really well in whatever classes I take, even through I still have ADHD; and my daughter also has ADHD but is very socially savvy.
Sometimes we can get stuck in this rabbit-hole mentality of ADHD - where we allow it to define our personalities; even worse, our child’s personalities. Right from the start we decide that because our child is not excelling in school it MUST be ADHD. If they have poor social skills, it must be ADHD.
None of this is meant to minimize the impact of ADHD in our children and our families. We know firsthand the struggles and we know the impact ADHD does have on our children. But we also know ADHD is just one piece in the puzzle that makes up the amazing people that we are.
I have two children with ADHD and they could not be more different. They are interested in different things. Motivated by different things. Rewards and consequences work differently on them. They are very different socially. They approach conflicts and challenges completely differently.
Why are there so many different layers of behavior with children who have ADHD? Because they are unique individuals, born with wonderful unique personalities, character strengths and even love languages. They have different talents, different skills and are motivated by different things entirely. ADHD makes it harder for children to redirect their focus on activities or things that don’t inherently interest them - but what DOES interest them? What drives them?
Are they free-willed creatives who scoff at rules and structure? What might ADHD look like in this child? What kind of parenting skills might best serve this child. (Please note - the world does need free-willed creatives…)
Are they conflict averse, preferring a set of guidelines to follow? A helicopter parent might be ideal for his personality type.
Are they introverted? Or are they extroverted?
Are they creative or analytical?
Do they have a growth mindset or fixed mindset?
If you follow MBTI or the Enneagram, you may consider how each of those personalities might be impacted by having ADHD? How might ADHD exacerbate or mask certain personality traits?
For example - we thought my son was introverted because he struggled in crowds and larger social settings. After doing his personality assessment - we found he’s actually quite extroverted and LOVES people - but with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder, he struggles in larger crowds because of the overwhelming amount of stimuli. We work to make sure he gets social interactions in small groups or one-on-one settings where we can. He also craves structure, but with ADHD has a very hard time creating that for himself.
My significant other is an INFP - he’s a born creative who resists structure. He’s passionate about his values. He HATES conflict, unless it’s a healthy debate about social issues. In fact, according to one article, INFP’s are often misdiagnosed as having ADHD - although in his case we know he has it. So even if he had not had ADHD, based on his personality type, he may have never been a structured person. This is hard for our son who thrives in structure and routine. Those two can be oil and water.
I have ADHD, I can be a total mess, and yet I have a successful career in Project Management. How is that possible if I wasn’t organized? I’m an ESFP - we have a strong attention to detail and very good memory of facts and experiences. I can also read a room and I’m great in a crisis situation. My character strengths include Leadership and Love of Learning (and Humor). With ADHD I can zoom in and out at a moment's notice and “hyper-organize”. My desk may be a mess but my project is always organized. The ESFP is an entertainer. I will organize the heck out of a party, but then turn around and forget to pay the utility bill. (Priorities, right?)
All this to say - we strongly encourage parents to resist using the over-encompassing label of ADHD on their children and get to know their WHOLE child - personalities, character strengths, love languages. This is “Knowing” part of the P.A.C.K. You have to know your child for who they truly are, then you can begin to layer in where and how ADHD fits in, how it has impacted and/or even served to shape their personalities, and what you can do to show up as the parent this child needs to feel encouraged, loved and supported. That is the best gift you can give your child to navigate this complicated thing called life.
This is the core tenet of what we do at Whole Family ADHD. We help families get to know each other authentically so that each member can show up as their best and truest selves to strengthen the family as a whole.
If you read this and it instantly hits home with you - reach out, we’d love to work with you!
If you read this and instantly felt overwhelmed and unsure - reach out, we’d love to work with you!