Coaching Acceptance Of ADHD and Learning Disabilities

A parent writes:  My teenage son is very upset about having been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and other learning differences. Not only does he deny that he has them but each time I try to speak with him about these conditions he gets angry and shuts down. What are your suggestions?

Parents are often faced with the delicate dilemma of imparting critical information to children that can stir up painful feelings yet also help them understand why they have struggled in different areas of their lives. Learning that they have ADHD or a learning disability (LD) is often received like a tremendous wound to their ego. Reactions of anger, disbelief, denial, and defeat are not uncommon. Over time, these feelings usually subside but their persistence can be very costly. Unfortunately, they become barriers to learning effective ways to cope with learning and behavioral disorders.

In addition to medication and counseling, much can be learned by children with ADHD and LD to help them compensate for and control their difficulties. Here are some coaching tips to follow:

Do not to give in to the fear of "making things worse." Children are not served when parents withhold knowledge of these conditions or avoid discussion when problems surface. If negative feelings mount parents are advised to focus attention upon the feelings and the difficulty accepting uncomfortable realities in life. "Sooner or later, we all find out things about ourselves that we don't like. By opening our minds to learning, we can figure out ways to contain and control problems. By denying they exist, these problems grow and cost us success, happiness, and health," is one way to get the point across that you will not collude with their denial.

Be prepared with explanations that make sense and instill a positive outlook.
The diagnosis of ADHD or LD should be offered with reassurance and confidence that knowledge offers the power to overcome obstacles.  "ADHD is a condition that brings hurdles and strengths to people's lives. People have trouble with focus, self-control, and some other issues.  They also can devote themselves to passionate interests so that they become like experts in their field," offers a balanced view. Emphasize how confidence, determination, and an open mind   are the most critical ingredients in successful coping.

Recognize the erratic and evolving nature of these conditions.
Children with ADHD and LD must be educated about these conditions. Factors such as the degree of structure in the environment, presence of peers, teacher expectations, and learning objectives all figure into how much ADHD or LD interferes with appropriate behavior and academic achievement. "It's a good idea to learn how certain situations make these problems better or worse, and how you can avoid the ADHD traps in life," provides a point of entry. Explain how they can learn how to be their own advocate and educate teachers about their academic needs.

Prepare them for the challenges ahead.
Parents who adopt a coaching role in the lives of their ADHD and LD children provide tremendous assistance to their successful self-management of these conditions. Skills such as planning, self-correction, recovery from disappointment, and improved decision-making can be vastly improved when parents take a proactive role. If your child resists your active involvement, find help elsewhere, or locate a resource that can help the two of you build a coaching alliance.