Family, Kids & Relationships

What to say to your neurotypical child about ADD/ADHD

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Millions of children live with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. These kids may exhibit symptoms such as difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior. Symptoms may appear as early as 3 years of age, and sometimes lessen as people get older—but some folks will live with the effects of ADHD throughout their lives.

These kids may also experience low self-esteem, difficulty with school, or trouble with social relationships, which can make the school-age years particularly difficult. They can learn strategies to be successful and overcome these challenges—but it can really help to have the other people in their lives on board as well. 

A great place to start is by educating your own neurotypical child about the experiences of those with ADHD. Here are some examples of what you can say to your child about ADHD to help them better understand and support their friends and classmates:

“Everyone has things that are harder or easier for their brains to learn, including stuff like focusing, or remembering all the steps it takes to do a task. Kids with ADHD sometimes have a turbocharged brain that goes really fast—and when it goes too fast, certain things like sitting still for a long time, thinking about what they want to say before they say it, memorizing things, or reading for school can be tougher for them.”

It’s important to stress that ADHD is a difference, rather than a disorder. A basic understanding of how it works can help kids empathize with each other.

“We don’t say that kids are ADHD, we say they have ADHD. ADHD doesn’t determine who someone is or who they will grow up to be. Their ADHD brains might make them hyperactive or impulsive, or get extra emotional when they’re frustrated, but they’re NOT ‘bad kids’—they’re just learning to manage the special way their brains are wired. With the right support, these kids can do amazing things!”

Never define someone by their medical diagnosis. Remember that medical information is generally only shared between a family and their doctor, so it’s important to avoid speculating about someone else’s health. 

“Kids with ADHD are just regular kids with something different about their brain. It can make some things that might seem easy to you more difficult for them. It’s just like how some people’s eyes work differently—it might make it harder for them to see the same way you do, but they’re still regular kids! The most important thing is to remember patience with your friends with ADHD. Under the surface, they’re often working really hard to focus that turbocharged brain.”

Those with ADHD may feel overwhelmed by new ideas or thoughts and excess energy. The classroom is a common place for these symptoms to show up and become apparent to teachers and classmates. Be proactive about educating neurotypical children about how they can support kids with ADHD at school.

“ADHD can show up in lots of different ways for different people. Some kids might have trouble with schoolwork, others might move around a lot during class or tune out while someone’s talking, while others may have trouble managing their big emotions. We’re all like that sometimes! But for people with ADHD, those things get in the way of other stuff in their lives. Remember that everyone is different and might need different types of support.”

Above all, stress to your child that it’s not ok to make assumptions about what types of support or treatment someone needs. If they want to be helpful, they can start by educating their neurotypical friends about ADHD and modelling how to lead with patience. 

“Difference is cool! People with ADHD have a different way of thinking that can help them come up with unique ideas. Their energy and ability to think about lots of complicated stuff at once can be big assets. It’s not easy to live with ADHD, but having folks with ADHD in our lives is a gift and they should be treated with love and respect.”

It’s so important to raise kids who are good allies to those with neurodevelopmental differences. Equipping yourself and your child with some basic knowledge and empathy will go a long way to make life better for kids you meet with ADHD.

Mckenna Saady is a staff writer and digital content lead for ParentsTogether. Before working for nonprofits such as the Human Rights Campaign and United Way, Mckenna spent nearly a decade as a child care provider and Pre-K teacher. Originally from Richmond, VA, she now lives in Philadelphia and writes poetry, fiction, and children’s literature in her spare time.