Need advice to help our Adult Son with ADHD

Hello everyone! Sorry in advance for the length of this post. I saw Jessica’s excellent Ted Talk video which led me to this amazing website and YouTube channel. I thought I’d post and see if I could get some advice from some of the experts. My Wife and I have 2 amazing children, a 19-year old Daughter who has always excelled at everything she tries, and a 22-year old Son who was diagnosed with ADHD while in the 7th Grade. He has always been very defiant around treatment and the fact he has ADHD. Years of struggling in school, working with counselors, doctors, psychiatrists, etc. have largely been unhelpful. Our Son is very articulate and intelligent, which has given him the ability to ‘fool’ doctors and therapists to a certain extent as he understands what to tell them to steer them in the wrong direction. When prescribed medication, he’s told them that it is working great, and we find out later that he was faking taking them, and instead hiding them and throwing them out later. After years of struggle, we found a private school that specializes in students with ADHD. We were incredibly fortunate that our Son was accepted there for his Junior and Senior years of High School. He excelled at that school. With the individualized learning plans catered to his learning styles, he did great. The teachers were amazing. He joined the school’s basketball team and was one of their leading scorers. He was happy and made a ton of friends. FINALLY . . . some success!! He Graduated High School . … on time! Unfortunately, that success didn’t last. He wanted to go to College to study Business. He was accepted to one of our local Community Colleges. He was offered a huge amount of additional assistance and accommodations to help him succeed. Despite our insistence, he refused them all, and only lasted 1 year before dropping out. Since then, 4 years now, he’s been living at home, playing video games all night, and sleeping all day. He’s held a job at a local department store for a few years, but he has no ambition to move up the ladder, and he only does the bare minimum in order to keep his job. We aren’t sure if he’s able to to more, or if it is truly that he doesn’t WANT to do more, which is what he says. We imagine it’s probably a combination of the two. While he has many ideas and aspirations for a bright and happy future, he doesn’t, or can’t do anything to move in that direction. All the while, continuing to refuse any kind of treatment or assistance of any kind. Late last year, our Daughter came to us with a completely unselfish idea. She is starting her Sophomore year at University where she is doing very well and has plans to continue on to Medical School. She planned to move into an apartment on-campus with a couple of her friends that she, and our Son, have known most of her life for her Sophomore year. She asked us what we thought if our Son moved into the apartment with them. He’d have his own room, it would give him a new environment, he’d be introduced to other students that might inspire him, and she could help him and ‘keep an eye’ on him. We had mixed feelings about that at first. We did pitch the idea to our Son and asked him to think about it for a couple of months. He eventually, reluctantly, agreed. Their move took place a couple of weeks ago. A month ago, we got him to agree to see a Neurologist and get another round of tests and evaluations, just to see if anything had changed in the last several years. The diagnosis was the same: ADHD, Executive Function Disorder, and Defiance Disorder. He still refuses to admit/accept his diagnosis and refuses any education or treatment. As for his move to the apartment, we know we need to give it more time, but he’s continuing with his same routine – video games all night, sleep all day, and go to work for a few hours each week. He’s been complaining that he doesn’t like the new arrangement, and can’t wait until the year is up so he can move back home. We’re VERY concerned that he’s falling into a greater depression, and that this apartment idea will back-fire on all of us. We feel like we have so many resources at our fingertips – great doctors, medications that can help, mentors, life coaches, an immediate and extended family that will do anything to help, etc., but he just refuses to accept or discuss any kind of assistance. Any thoughts or ideas on what we can/should do to help our Son to help himself?? Is the apartment a bad idea? Thanks in advance for any advice!

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Wow, your daughter sounds great! I wish I had a person like that in my life.

I think the main question is whether your son is happy or not. If he is happy sleeping all day and playing video games all night, then it’s unconventional, but cool if he can get by in life like that. If he’s happy by can’t get by in life (i.e., can’t feed himself) like that, then is there a way of finding a job that will be as close to that as possible (e.g., freelance computer programming, freelance technical writing)?

If he’s not happy doing this, then that’s more of a concern because it might be self-destructive. If this is the case, then I’m less sure what to suggest. You could consider that the diagnosis was wrong, and he actually needs different kinds of help; perhaps that’s why he’s not responding to help? Or perhaps he needs unconventional help.

I wish you all the very best.

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Did your son have a favorite teacher at the school?

Is there any other adult connected to the school, not a teacher, who he liked?

Has he kept in touch with any of the other students through the years?

I guess you see where this is headed . . . I am thinking that if he made some sort of positive connection with someone who might be willing to spend a few hours with him in an informal social way now . . . Perhaps through that association, which perhaps could continue in some way . . .

I know for my son, now an adult, even as a child he was sometimes helped more by other boys his age who also had ADHD and became known to him through a parents group which my wife and I organized.

If not, is there any sort of peer group . . . social group . . . activity group . . . hobby group (video games?) . . . that might get him connected to the outside world, spark some interests and activity that are not solitary and isolating?

I was just listening to Dr. Ed Hallowell in a YouTube where he identified “being connected” is one of the most important things for everyone . . . it may be more so for those of us with ADHD.

Just some thoughts at the moment.

Best of luck!

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I probably fall more into the tough love camp…
Let him fail and fail hard. He wants to prove he can do it himself? Make him.
The pain of staying where he is has to outweigh the pain of trusting others, otherwise he won’t budge. The ODD is likely the sticking point.

Also, he is probably picking up on a few things you are putting down that frankly are… somewhat insulting.
Example:

My Wife and I have 2 amazing children, a 19-year old Daughter who has always excelled at everything she tries, and a 22-year old Son who was diagnosed with ADHD while in the 7th Grade.

Here you have weighted your younger daughters full life achievements as an equal comparison to your older son’s medical diagnosis. Your daughter had control over what you value in her. Your son had no control over thing you have valued him by. To be very honest, I read this and it was almost a slap in the face.
Never ever say that sentence in your son’s hearing. You will forever injure your relationship.
But if you say it here, then you have been “saying” it in other places through your actions or words, and he is picking up on it. It’s going to feed the ODD.
He needs to have a drive to do something and to be willing to accept help, and he needs to see you as allies instead of dictators. Like it or not, he is 22 and an adult. It is time to let him go, honor him in whatever ways you can, and then if he fails let him. After he has been on the ground a bit ask him for permission to help. Permission. Let him say no. He probably will at first. Let him know that you love him no matter what. You always will, and you will always be willing to help if he asks for it. Then let him be.
Let the ODD be told that HE is in charge. HE gets to choose. You are no longer in opposition to him, you are a potential ally. Let the ADHD screw him over and lead him to humility. Not (neccesarily) humiliation, that would trigger the ODD. Humility. The knowing that he is not the end-all be-all, and that accepting help is ok.

JTH

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@ADHD_Kids_Dad

@JudasTheHammer presents an alternative approach. Aside from what I have already suggested here . . . a TOUGH LOVE approach was the very first thing that came to mind as I thought of what might work . . . what might be necessary . . . if anything is to work.

As a parent I have been through some heavy stuff with both of my children, 1 ADHD and the other having had other, many vexing trials and tribulations. At times my wife and I were scared for one or the other, and on some occasions for both at the same time. Worried that they would decide to leave us . . . take their own life. That was many years ago . . . But the memories are still haunting . . .

So a Tough Love approach is scary. But it is an option. Perhaps what could be the only option that makes sense.

I will be thinking of you and your family. Whatever you decide . . . Best of luck!

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Thank you all for the great advice!

@JudasTheHammer - the comment you pointed out was not written to be a comparison at all, but just informational. However, it does bring up a great point. Those types of ‘comparisons’ have probably been made sub-consciously in the past, and been hurtful to our Son without our knowledge. It’s always been a struggle as we want to celebrate our Daughter’s accomplishments (and our Son’s as well . . .and he’s had many too), but we’ve always tried to downplay them a bit so as not to make our Son feel bad. Your comments have shown that maybe we weren’t always successful at that, or approaching it in the best way. It’s very difficult to think that we may have been hurting our Son without that intention. We’ve always tried to be conscious of their feelings, but without instruction manuals, maybe we were off-base sometimes.

As for the tough-love approach . . that is something I agree with. Much easier to say than do, especially for my Wife, but I think it is the best approach at this point. Since he is now living away from us, it’s probably going to be a bit easier to accomplish. He’s already been looking for a job . . . on his own . . . and seems to be OK with his new environment, so we’ll see!!

@Brooklyn – Our Son did make several friends that he did keep in touch with for a while. Probably time for him to get back in touch with them again! Your suggestion about favorite teachers was great as well – I’m sure his past teachers at that school would be happy to send him a note to see how he’s doing. That’s something we can solicit through the school. They did seem to enjoy having him in class, and he did like most of them as well. A few of them really went above and beyond for him.

@Shannon – Your comment about whether our Son was happy or not really struck a cord too. We’ve always been under the assumption that, after High School, that he wasn’t happy – maybe we were wrong. He’s never said he was unhappy (not that he would admit it, but still). I think that fits into the ‘tough love’ approach – let him know that there is help if he is unhappy, but otherwise let him be. Thank you also for the kind thoughts!

Again, thank all of your for the excellent advice and comments. Extremely helpful, and we very much appreciate it!!

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You’ve gotten great advice from other parents that I generally agree with and support, but I think you’re missing a crucial perspective in all this: the perspective of a disenfranchised twenty-something.

Your son sounds a lot like me in some ways. I just turned 24 and have been in the same boat basically since high school. I waste my days playing video games for hours on end, work specifically easy, dead end, low paying jobs on purpose, and tried to go back to college and failed right out of high school. My whole life I’ve been told I’m brilliant, bright, and absolutely chalk full of potential, but then immediately insulted by the follow up; “You just lack the motivation.”

What I lack is not motivation, and I don’t think your son lacks it either. What I lack is a reason. Folks a generation or two older than myself lived their early adult lives in a world that was otherwise happy and got along with one another. Money went farther, news was less depressing, social interaction was done mainly in person or over a phone call. It might not have been easy, I don’t think anyone’s life has necessarily been easy if you’re a Brain, or just in general, but it certainly was a less gloom and doom time to be alive.

Nowadays you’ve got two media options: Cute fluffy animal or localized apocalypse. Every day we see new chaos, a new tragedy, a new disappointment. America specifically (which is where I’m from, so it’s culture is the only one I can accurately describe,) has LITERALLY been on fire recently. The last few years have been complete and utter chaos politically. Many of us feel like we’re watching the beginning of the end, and for once statistics might actually support that outrageous mindset.

What I lack, and most likely what your son lacks, is not motivation or drive. Plainly put, it is hope. We lack any kind of hope to ever be truly happy with the outcomes of our lives. We see the horrors and the failures of the world daily, packaged neatly into simply worded articles and subbed videos easily consumable in three minutes or less. We’ve lived through the housing market crash in 08, the birth of “the war on terrorism,” extreme budget cuts to public education, (Lets not even go into what it cost us as far as the quality of our primary educations,) swine flu, Ebola, and a billion other bio-threats, Fukushima, global warming, losing Pluto and Curiosity, nuclear threats from several different countries, Covid-19, and countless dozens of other very big, very public, and very depressing realities all before our brains have even fully developed. (At roughly age 26-28.)

The youth of today, while enjoying many luxuries our ancestors could only dream of, are effectively living a nightmare scenario depicted only in dystopian literature. A world where rent goes up and up and up and up and wages don’t, where your work performance is more important than your wellbeing in the eyes of a majority of employers, where the youth’s sense of humor is essentially coming up with the biggest possible tragedy and half laughing, half crying at the absurdity of it knowing that with the way things are going, it might not be so absurd after all, and most of all going day to day knowing deep down in your heart that you, in the eyes of your government are nothing but a number and a source of revenue.

We have very little hope that the world will get better for us. At 23 years old I had an IUD placed so that I may never accidentally have a child that must endure life also. Many, many of us are choosing to be child free and I think that speaks very loudly of our distrust and loss of hope.

Your son is going through all the same motions I have been going through for years. Sadly, my perspective and my “motivation,” has not changed yet. All I’ve been doing is saving up as much money as I can, I don’t even know what I’ll use it for. For many people my age, we just aren’t confident we can plan that far ahead with how many screwballs life has already thrown our way.

Being a Brain, you tend to have two timelines; Now and Not Now. With how disenfranchised the twenty somethings of America are, Now and Not Now is starting to resonate with people who don’t have ADHD too. More and more, we’re picking the thing that immediately satisfies us, because we know that the things we historically have saved for later haven’t always been there when we go back for them. We’ve been let down by our circumstances too many times. We don’t believe we control our own futures because in many ways, the control we might have is superficial at best.

From my perspective, I am completely and totally content to live life this way. Go to work, pay the bills, enjoy my downtime. That’s how everyone else has always done it. Thirty years ago, work paid you more comparitively, so nowadays there’s more work and less downtime, which makes my downtime even more important. When it comes to things I could do in my free time, video games almost always win.

The adhd mind tends to prioritize things in order of “What absolutely has to be done? -and- What sounds the most rewarding?” and that’s basically it. We really have to drag ourselves to pursue something outside of those two categories most of the time.

Ask your son how he feels about his future, see if he empathizes with the points I’ve made and if he does, know that there isn’t a lot you can do to hype him up and motivate him. This is a struggle we’ll go through on our own, in our own minds, and find out the best way to cope ourselves.

I think that tough love is really the only answer here. Not just “tough,” and not just “love,” but tough love. Your son will eventually have to find his own way, pay his own bills, and make his own happiness, as we all do. But help him get there by giving him the nudge that he needs. Adhders struggle with our decision making processes and with making large changes in our lives. Its inevitable that without your outside influence, he will most likely be content with whatever he’s been comfortable doing this whole time and not make any big moves to change it. It doesn’t make him lazy or ungrateful, it just means he needs help.

Keep in mind also that housing costs are staggeringly high right now and if he does move out on his own it’s very likely he will need financial help unless he’s willing to work 90 hours a week. From the sounds of it he may not outright ask for the help. Give it to him anyway. If in any way you can predict his needs, offer him the help he isn’t asking for but don’t force it. You guys sound like very loving, caring parents so hopefully you have been doing this already. It sounds that way to me. Positive reinforcement is absolutely key here as well.

What ultimately helped me move out was 1: having a partner to help share the burden, and 2: The craving of independence. If your son isn’t very active in the chore department, I would change that because nothing could be more motivating to an adhd brain than the desire to control their own chore schedule (mainly so we can avoid it lol.)

I’ve gone on long enough probably, but I totally feel for your son and get where he’s at right now. At 24 I’m basically still there myself except now I’m not disappointing my parents in their own home, I’m disappointing them in mine🤷‍♀️

He’ll find his own way. Just supporting him through these depressing times and making him feel like he has a backup plan should things fail will certainly make him feel more comfortable taking a risk. You had to teach him to walk, and eventually he could run, all he needed was a foundation and the confidence to try. Now he has to learn to be an adult, something I’m still in the active process of doing myself. Don’t worry, because eventually he’ll be able to run at that too. He just wants time to teach himself rather than feeling like his adulting homework is due tomorrow.

Sorry to be so long winded. I have faith this will work out okay for everyone in due time. Good luck to you all!

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I am a parent of a 13 Yo boy with ADHD and I have it also. We found a school similar to the one you mentioned for him for the last couple of years of primary school. It has seemed to set him up pretty well for high school so far. He has his ups and downs but overall doing OK.

I wasn’t diagnosed until almost 40. My school education I did well in things I liked and not in others. I didn’t really get my shit together until I was probably 25. But I was always working and moved out of home at 18 I moved back for a while when I was working with my father.

When I look back I with the perspective of a parent I can see things that my own parents could have done differently if they knew I had ADHD but overall I was lucky because free thought and adventure where just part of our family. So my little diversions where never thought of as bad just testing the waters. And personal responcibility for myself was an expectation from a young age. So if I messed up I was expected to fix it. Always with the support of my family if I needed it. And trust me I got myself into some pickels from being stranded in remote places to getting into fairly full on disagreements with my school to the point they threatend suspension or worse because I stood my ground on a few issues. In all of these situations I was expected to sort it out. When I was stranded my parents would have come and get me but before that happened I had to exhaust any options I had in the end i found a safe way to get myself home. With the school disagreement my mother refused to meet with the school. Her exact words to the principle where "you are the adult in this situation dont you think you should be able to reach a solution without having to call for backup from a boys mother? "(I was 13 the first time and 16 the second time). Both times I achieved what I was setting out to do but at a measurable cost of some kind.

I suppose the point i am trying to make here is I always knew if trouble got real I would have help to get me out of it. And I also knew that if what I was doing was wrong there was always a consequence for that. And trust me they where sometimes hard learnt lessons. I would say make him try stand on his own 2 feet but watch and be ready to intervine if he needs it. Let him feel the pressure of failure and being hungry for a while. You know him best you know how far that line can be pushed.

Don’t buy him an easy life where he can always be comfortable. Use your time and money to buy him opportunities to move forward. He rings up hungry send him the details of an employment agency, a counsellor and a soup kitchen. Dont pay for his food pay for a bus fare and a counselling appointment. (This is just an example). Try find him opportunities that he can try new things. Almost every person with ADHD will have a career that suits their particular set of constraints. And when they find it they do ok.

The up all night playing video games is probably because its easy on his brain. The games provide the stimulus that many ADHD brains desperately crave and not having to deal with certain types of interactions that have negative affects on him. Certain things to an adhd person can be very very hard. And the psychological response to them can be incredibly intense. And we will go to extreems to avoid them. I intentionally failed high level senior maths because I was forced to take it to do physics. And that’s because I just couldn’t maintain the focus and attention to do the course work for that level of maths. And the emotional response I had to being forced into something I knew was a terrible idea was borderline crippling.I loved physics and the math in that because the science part stimulated my little brain. I aced physics I aced the lower level maths I took along side the hard maths class to make sure I had a high school pass in math. And I intentionally crashed the harder subject. It caused many many issues because the teacher resented me for it. The physics teacher really hated me for it because I was making him look like an ass. The principal hated me for it because he had no course of action to appease all parties involved. My mother got iritated because the school kept harrasing her because I was never in that class.

As you can see an extreme response to avoid how it made me feel.

And remember he is an adult now. Ultimately responsible for what he dose with his life. As a parent you have worked hard for your kids to have the best they can but the point will need to come where your focus needs to change back to your own life with the odd interuption when your kids need you.

Sorry for the long post but many of us know what he might be feeling driving him to make poor choices. But they are his now and he will make other choices when the adult condition starts to lean on him a little. Just be around to try point him in the best direction .

M

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