Guest post #1: Paula Butterfield

I am so excited to present this blog’s very first guest post, written by none other than my amazing mother! Are you interested in contributing a post of your own to the ADHDrew blog? If so, send me an email!   — DRD

Recently I participated in Dr. Russell Barkley’s webinar, “For Loved Ones of Adults with ADHD.” Although I read many books about ADHD when my daughter was a child, adulthood brings different challenges. I want to be equipped to best support “adulting” Drew. 

The webinar included segments defining ADHD and its treatments, but I was most interested in the segments about the role I should expect to play. Barkley summed up the impact of adult ADHD in three points (and I’ve added my personal interpretations):

  1. Life disruptions and personal sacrifices. Well, this is huge. Acceptance of how much having a loved one with this neurological impairment will alter your life is an ongoing process. You have to be prepared to drop everything to deal with emergencies, as all parents do; although ADHD folks arguably have more emergencies to deal with, including financial snafus, pharmaceutical battles, and emotional crises.
  2. Greater stress. I’m going to focus on the stress being the loved one of an ADHD adult puts on a marriage. The bottom line is your spouse is not going to get as much attention as he or she might if your child were neurotypical. The most recent information I could locate, a 2008 study by the American Psychiatric Association, estimated that by the time an ADHD child is eight years old, 22.7 percent of his or her parents will have divorced (compared to 12.6 percent for parents of non-ADHD children). I’m going to out on a limb and guess that this divorce rate climbs as the ADHD child grows into the teenaged years and then adulthood.
  3. Emotional roller-coaster. Barkley describes the cycle: The characteristic impulsivity of someone with ADHD can lead to risk-taking or irresponsible behavior. This leads to irritation and frustration on the part of family/loved ones. In turn, these negative responses result in the person with ADHD suffering guilt, shame, and discouragement. But this puts it too mildly. “Irritation” can actually be rage (“You got into ANOTHER car accident?!”), and shame can be emotional devastation.

That’s the bad news.

But Barkley suggests several techniques to mitigate the negative impacts of having an adult loved one with ADHD (and he knows from personal experience, having had a brother who couldn’t keep a job, whose family finally kicked him out of the house, and who died in a car accident due to careless driving). So here are the roles a loved one plays:

  1. Acceptor and listener. I’ve seen how exhausting it is for my daughter to get through every day, “passing” as neurotypical. Even more than the rest of the family, she needs to vent to someone who exhibits “unconditional positive regard.”
  2. Support team member. Your ADHD loved one may need reminders, suggestions, or just encouraging remarks. And of course, hugs. Lots of hugs.
  3. Advocate. Even adults can use advocates to accompany them to appointments. For example, one evening after her medication had worn off and her thinking was fuzzy, Drew needed to go to emergency care for a sudden ailment. I went with her to get the details on treatment and prescriptions.
  4. Benefactor. Almost certainly, there will be times when you’ll need to give financial help. The key here is to avoid giving cash to your needy ADHD adult. Send payment directly to the school or service where it is needed.

All of these roles woven together create a safety net. Yet I’ve seen how even someone with severe ADHD can go beyond safely surviving to thriving. To me, the key is to home in on your ADHD loved one’s particular interest and then to encourage him or her to pursue those goals in nontraditional ways. Online college courses are a godsend for students who get distracted in a classroom setting. And working remotely is an increasingly available option that’s beneficial for those who don’t do well in an office setting. (Perhaps you’ve seen your ADHD adult hyperfocus on a computer screen. Why not use this as an advantage?) Achieving his/her goals and experiencing successes creates a sense of accomplishment and hopefulness.

I found Barkley’s webinar enormously validating. After years of being assured that I was imagining my child’s issues, that what she needed was more physical punishment, and that I should cut her off financially after college, it’s a relief to know that a clinical psychologist and ADHD neurology specialist who has also loved an adult with ADHD understands my challenges. I appreciate knowing the ways that I can effectively understand and help my smart, talented, loving, and super-cute daughter! For a list of books and upcoming webinars go to

Paula Butterfield is a writer based in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter @pbutterwriter.

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