Overfocused Children and Divorse

Shouldn't we wait? I was working hard on what's in Delivered from Distraction and got hit with I want to be Delivered by Divorce from my wife. There are two small boys involved. The 5 year old is going to be tested for ADD this summer before kindergarten. The 9 year old has been formally diagnosed with ADD, and with over focused type. Jimmy, the oldest, is in the fourth grade. He has, like his father, some very real issues with over-focused type ADD. He is currently taking all the advanced courses they can throw at him, and reads on a high school level. He is brilliant but also super sensitive, and has a very, very fragile sense of self esteem. My wife requested judicial intervention in the proceedings and now a court appointed child's advocate is involved. His job involves interviewing the kids and responding to the judge. I heard the appointed gentlemen is a professional and is good at this job. I learned he is very fair and I am not really concerned with his speaking with either child. The kids have not yet been told that their parents are in divorce proceedings. It has all been happening very quickly. Here's what I am concerned about. Jimmy has two months left of the fourth grade. His over-focused ADD already has him latch on to issues and not be able to drop them. He has done great on just fish oil, but I do not have a Dr. lined up if he needs to move to medication. Of the three psychiatrists I have spoken with, none have any familiarity with over focused type. I take fish oil and adderall and although the difference for me has been profound, I have been reluctant to medicate Jimmy. He is right on the threshold with the fish oil and since it has been working, he wasn't told about ADD. I was about to when I got hit with "papers". We went to the Bronx Zoo this last weekend as a family and this marriage is worth saving. I am hopeful to that end, but I can only work on my 1/2 of the issues. I have to be primarily concerned with the welfare of the boys right now. My wife has had little or no real involvement with the kids and the ADD issue. I've been, and will be, pretty much on my own. Would this boys interest be best served if we waited for two months before dropping this bomb on him? I would then have the summer to help him with the issues, and to get things set up for medication if needed. I'm scheduling appointments as fast as I can but this stuff takes time and some real consideration. I just know (instinctively perhaps?) that with this news his school year just stops, and his experience in the fourth grade is done. He will not be able to do anything but spin on "what's wrong with my mom and dad" and make suppositions on how he can fix it. In a lot of ways he doesn't get to be a kid anymore and that's tragic. I read you had informed your own kids about divorce so I apologize if this is a hard issue. I would appreciate your opinion and any advise you can offer, on whether it would be best to wait until the school year is over. Thank you for this site. jimmysdad

Overfocused ADD

While I've heard of ADHD innattentive type and ADHD with hyperactivity, I've never heard of ADHD overfocused type.  Yes, people with ADHD do have the ability to hyperfocus, but they generally don't do it all the time.  Which makes me wonder if your diagnosis is quite right.  If your son was diagnosed by his school, I would suggest you consider a full evaluation with a child psychiatrist who is well versed in ADHD and how it differs from other or co-existing conditions.  The reason that your psychiatrists haven't heard of over-focused ADD is that there isn't such a diagnosis in the medical diagnostic manual (at least to my knowledge.)

Now, understand that I am NOT a doctor.  I am going to forward this link to Dr. Hallowell and hopefully he will get a chance to respond, as well.

As for how/when to tell your children.  There is no good time.  The school year at least provides routine and something that feels normal.  The summer, by its more free-form nature, may be a harder time to hear this news (particularly if he is going away to camp so that he doesn't have you reassuringly near).  He will have more time to dwell on the problems and, perhaps, obsess about them.  If you do decide to tell him during the school year, make sure to give his teacher a heads up about what is going on at home so that the two of you can be in touch about how he is doing.

The most important element is to make sure that your son understands that the issues that have resulted in divorce are completely between you and your wife - that he is in no way responsible.  I think that it is very hard for a child who has been diagnosed with ADD (or who seems just like a parent who has ADD) to hear one spouse denigrade the ADD of the other spouse, or blame the ADD for problems in the relationship and then not take it a bit personally (as in "if my mommy doesn't like my daddy because he has ADD, maybe she won't like me, either")  Assess what the conversations between you have been like, and adjust accordingly.  While he may not officially know about the ADD diagnosis, he will understand at an intuitive level, that he is like you.

It sounds as if your son has many, many wonderful gifts, not the least of which is his outsized intelligence.  ADD or not, being this much smarter than peers can be socially difficult for any child.  Consider contacting mensa or Johns Hopkins when you get a chance to find out if they have suggestions or programs that might help him find peers with similar interests.  He needs a place in which he feels comfortable being him - home is a great place to start, but it would also be great to have some really good peer friends if he doesn't already.

Let us know how it goes! 

Melissa Orlov

My parents divorced when I

My parents divorced when I was 8 years old, during the Christmas/New Years holiday. Each Christmas, since then, was a reminder of a very sad event. I have ADHD (but didn't know it as a child). I have struggled with depression throughout my life, and it was often worse during the Christmas season. Each Christmas after the divorce, was a reminder of the day my father told us kids "good bye". Divorce is certainly not a good Christmas gift. My brother once was considering a divorce, around Independence Day. I told him not to for the same reason - his son didn't need a 4th of July reminder. Hopefully, you and your wife can gain insight and understanding to bridge the gap between you, instead of widen it. But, if divorce happens, do try to make it happen on an uneventful day. I do like the idea of the kids being in school, instead of summertime. School giving them some structure as homelife is changing.


Overfocusing seems to be more common than people realize and it has not gained enough attention for anyone to have done any research on the matter. When a child overfocuses it is very similiar to obsessive-compulsive disorder but in a much milder form. As a warning to you most ADHD medication can and will most likely make overfocusing much worse and if you notice this in your child you need to let your medical provider know right away especially in school age children because this will affect their academic perfomance in a negative way. My child is currently on Adderall and I am in the processing of switching to a non stimulant medication because of this same problem.