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ADHD Diagnosis: The Good, The Bad, and The Parent’s Role

Written by Dr. Hallowell. Posted in Emotionality-and-Impulsivity, guest-experts, Life-Logistics
on 2013-11-11


The Benefits of ADHD

All 3 of my children have ADHD. When they were diagnosed, my reaction was not typical. Because I’m an expert in the field and I have ADHD myself, I was actually excited. I know that ADHD is as much a marker of talent as it is a potential problem, and I know the problems can be taken care of.  

I am thrilled my kids can think outside the box, are intuitive, persistent, and creative, have a “special something about them,” have huge hearts and a desire to march to the beat of their own drums. All these positives are what make people with ADHD so interesting and potentially successful.  Knowing all this, I was thrilled that my kids had a condition that could lead them into phenomenal lives.  But I was so happy only because I have the special knowledge most parents do not yet have. I embrace the condition of ADHD.  I do not see it so much as a disorder, but as a trait, a trait that can lead to huge success, joy, and fulfillment in life.   

My wife was a little more skeptical.

The Challenges of ADHD

It is true that people with ADHD tend to contribute to the world in a very positive way. But first, they must get a handle on what’s going on. And they cannot do it alone.

My wife, being married to me, also understands ADHD and how positive it can be.  But, being a mom, she was also a bit afraid, especially with our first child.  Would things REALLY work out all right?  Did I (me, Ned Hallowell) REALLY know what I was talking about when I said this could be a blessing, not a curse? At the beginning, she was apprehensive.

ADHD is a trait that can lead to very bad outcomes (the prisons are full of people with undiagnosed ADHD). With tendencies toward impulsive behaviors, and stimulation-seeking activities, people with ADHD are at increased risk. They are more likely to suffer from addiction, to get into accidents, to engage in not-well-thought-out-risk-taking behaviors. Having ADHD is like having a race-car engine for a brain, with weak brakes.  Once you strengthen your brakes, you’re ready to win races! But those breaks really need some work, first.

The challenges of ADHD show up in all aspects of our children’s lives – in school, in social dynamics, in family relationships, and especially in their self-concept. Our kids run the risk of believing that their “bad behaviors” are a reflection of them. It is our job, as the adults in their lives, to teach them to manage their challenges, while celebrating their strengths.

What’s the Role of the Parent?

One of the reasons my kids, thank God, are doing well is because my wife provided the love and structure that they needed.  I could not have done that on my own, nowhere near.  My wife, Sue, deserves so much credit for being such an awesome mom.  She always has faith in the positive, even when she is dealing with problems and conflicts.  She never gives up.  This is what these kids need more than anything else. Love that never gives up.

Ultimately, like Sue did with my children, a parent’s love, combined with a healthy amount of structure, can steer a child with ADHD to success in adulthood.

Team-Work – Everyone Has a Role

Just as we encourage our children to find their islands of competency, we parents should make an effort to do what we do best. In our family, Sue was a master of structure, organization, and making sure each child went off to school fully clothed, book bag in hand, with a good breakfast in the belly.  I was more the fun-maker, the new idea generator, the soft touch.  This sometimes led my wife rightly to resent that she had to be the “heavy,” and I got off easy being the fairy-god-mother.  But we worked this out with discussions. I tried hard to follow her lead and not undermine her attempts to create order.

There is usually one parent, more often the mom than the dad, who takes on the role my wife does in our family. It definitely helps when one parent can take the lead. But when there are reasons that will not work – like when both parents are ADHD, themselves – then dividing responsibilities based on strengths can make all the difference in the world.

This varies from family to family. Let the best organizer tend to organization and the best cook make the meals. Let the best mathematician help with math homework, and the best ball player play catch.  There are many tasks that both can do equally well.  The point here is to try to make sure those tasks are divided more or less equally. And, don’t forget to give your kids chores as well!

Finally, my most important single rule for parents is this: Enjoy your children.  If you are doing that, you are doing it right, almost for sure.

What Else Do Parents Need?

The most important thing for parents to do when their children have ADHD is to find the support you need, and use it!  Whether you join support groups, or coaching groups, don’t hold the frustrations inside. Tell trusted others about what you’re up against.  As you build a team of support, for your child and yourself, you’ll have the strength to persevere, and you’ll be teaching your child the valuable lesson of reaching out for help and support. You cannot do it alone, nor should you try.

Dr. Hallowell

Dr. Hallowell

Edward Hallowell, M.D., Ed. D., is a child and adult psychiatrist, a NY Times bestselling author, a world-renowned speaker, and a leading authority in the field of ADHD. He is a graduate of Harvard College and Tulane Medical School and was a faculty member at Harvard Medical School for more than 20 years. He is the founder of the Hallowell Centers in NYC and Boston and has appeared on numerous national TV programs including Oprah, Dr. Oz and 60 minutes. is a website loaded with resources for those with ADHD.

Comments (4)

  • Bonnie Ihme


    I always knew parenthood would be quite a challenge in my life since I’d many things to be but I didn’t want to miss out on the experience of having a child. Of course life changed dramatically and my head was spinning but we pushed ahead and have two. My husband and I had our Son diagnosed in 4th grade. I was diagnosed last December and now my husband last month. I’m keeping an eye on my daughter, she’ll be 8 this week. I am the organizer. I juggle my husbands life, my 12 yr old sons, my daughters and my own. I’m grateful to finally have answers to what I’ve always known has held me back on many things in my life along with why the relationship with my husband has been so strained. Luckily we fight fair, theirs no shouting there are discussions but they seem to go in one ear and out the other. I hear teachers tell me how unorganized my son is and know we can not MAKE people BE organized we can only help encourage and give them the tools to become more organized and hope and pray. My husband is as organized as my son and my daughter and I can no longer keep up with any of them. I sent my husband a text a month ago saying “Where to I put in my two weeks notice, because the complaint department has done NOTHING to help fix issues within this company?!” I’m exhausted. Being an ADHD who tires her best to be on top of things for everyone plus herself, with work, school, a father in a nursing home, I juggle VERY well but am tired of being the only organized person in this house. I’d love to be able to only have to concentrate on myself but then this house would not be functional.


  • Sara


    It’s hard when any attempt to talk to my son about anything he doesn’t want to do is met with anger and provokes a confrontation. I have no ability to organize or structure anything with my ADHD, so I don’t know how I can teach skills I don’t have. I don’t know how to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. My son doesn’t want to acknowledge he has ADHD, and doesn’t want to talk about it or learn about it. He is flunking out of school. I am the opposite of a control freak, the opposite of authoritarian, the opposite of bossy – he pretty much does whatever he wants. I try to keep things positive and stay low key about issues that come up – because if I confront him, I know he will react negatively and it will escalate into a screaming match. He’s on a pretty short fuse. Most advice to parents seems to be geared toward getting adults to tone it down and back off, not about how to create structure or containment. I have no skill or experience with this. I also don’t know if that’s the solution. I have no idea what the solution is. I just know that my son is not getting the right support at school, and has zero self-confidence. At the same time, shows no interest in learning anything or doing much of anything. He wants to do a dangerous sport that could result in brain damage…the one vaguely academic thing he wants to do, I don’t know where to find structure for that either.


  • Elizabeth


    I feel you Sara. Does you son receive special ed support at school? I recommend trying also I have begun using ImpactADHD coaching support – maybe you can look into that too? Take care of you and keep searching – help is out there!


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