Updated: Sep 30, 2022
Understanding the impact of uneven and lagging brain development in individuals with ADHD can move us to greater compassion and understanding of our loved ones - and ourselves!
“Did You Know...research has proved that ADHD children and young adults experience, on average, a 3 to 5-year developmental delay?"
Cognitive development in all kids is uneven. But for ADHD kids the disparity is even greater when compared to neurotypical kids. For example, one ADHD teen may be a great problem-solver and/or have great social skills. But they may have significant delays in their executive functioning like organization, planning and working memory. For other ADDers, they may have strong organization and planning skills. However, they may struggle with emotional regulation, making friends and interacting with their peers. If there's a cognitive delay of 3 - 5 years in kids with ADHD, a 17-year-old child may really only have the maturity of a 12 -14 year-old in certain areas. That's a remarkable difference! Knowing that, how does that change how you view your own child's behaviors and/or choices?
The attached document has a chart on the Ages and Stages of a child's development up through senior adulthood. It compares neurotypical chronological age development to neurodiverse individuals (their stage of development). After you've had a chance to read through the document, consider the following...
1) How is your child's development uneven? In what areas is he/she strong or gifted? In what areas are they lagging and need additional support? Focus on and acknowledge their strengths - often!
2) Be mindful about your spoken and unspoken language around their weak areas. Now that you know the developmental impact ADHD has on an individual's brain, how does it impact the expectations you have of your own child? In what areas can your expectations be adjusted, possibly even lowered? If you find yourself often saying, "She should be able to..."
* remember not to walk out in front of cars (for an 8 yo)
* not interrupt a conversation (for an 11 yo)
* remember to lock the door (for a 17 yo)
* organize her schoolwork and follow a weekly schedule (for a 19 yo)
...then that's your cue, that there's a lagging skill and they still need guidance, practice, and support. Instead, think about how you can scaffold your child's development and support them learning the skill(s) where they're behind. Get creative!
3) What supports/systems can you implement at home to foster the development of a lagging skill? Do they need a positive visual cue? A hand still held to cross the street? A reminder set up on their phone? Limits/rules on phones or other electronic devices? A checklist for the morning routine?
4) Less criticism and more acknowledgement! Avoid unintentionally shaming or punishing kids for their weak skills. And apologize when you do fall into that zone - as parents we've all been there! Instead, model, teach, shape and encourage kids towards the skills you'd like to see developed. Help them build a bridge to where you'd like them to go (developmentally). And the best way to build that bridge, is tapping into their interests, intentions/goals, strengths, and their values. If you don't know...spend some time observing and pondering who they are. Understand what makes them tick. And if you really want to know...just ask them!