Top Tips for Partnering with Your Young Adult with ADHD

Letting go of being the ‘adult in charge’ can be particularly difficult if your child has ADHD.  You might observe that your child, now turned adult, seems to be stumbling through something that could be easier.  Perhaps she’s having trouble organizing a job search.  Perhaps he isn’t remembering to pay his rent regularly, even though he has the money to do so. 

How do you navigate the transition from caregiver to supporter when your child has the issues ADHD can bring?  As a rule of thumb, my advice is to be available for support and stay connected while never taking over what rightfully is your young adults’ responsibility.  This allows him to build self-confidence and skills, while providing an appropriate safety net.  If you have a child who is in high school, please take this time to help him learn skills (such as getting out of bed on time; organizing and doing laundry) that help him succeed.

So…here are my top tips for supporting that child-to-adult transition:

Maintain perspective.

You're the parent, and you may be used to being in charge.  Or at least being the lead organizer.  But once your child has grown up, you are no longer in control.  And you should not be organizing.  Remind yourself of that each time you are tempted to intervene.  It’s hard to stand back, but adults – including the one you think of as your child - need to make their own mistakes.  They long for your love and support, but not for your interference.  That said…

Do a safety check.

If a person you love is in true danger (ex: in an abusive relationship; experimenting with drugs; showing signs of alcoholism; falling into a severe depression) then loving intervention is warranted.  You may not be able to impact the situation, but sitting on the sidelines won’t help, either.  Talk with your partner about creating a united approach; find good resources your young adult can use without your assistance if he wishes to get help; and make sure he understands you are there for him when/if he needs it, no questions or recriminations.  Follow up in a loving way that lets him know you continue to be there, but aren’t in charge.  If it’s life and death, talk with a professional about the possibility of an intervention.

At college, support can be good.  Interference is not.

Most college kids with ADHD will benefit from using the college resource center for support.  Not all are aware these services exist, and some choose not to use them.  Help them become aware of the services, offer your support in selecting them if it’s needed, then back away.  You aren’t in charge, and no matter how much you want your young adult to get the help, she won’t unless she wants to.  As another aside, young adults with ADHD often struggle their first year with staying organized enough to succeed.  Quite a few flunk out.  Don't panic.  Suggest getting help, including possibly offering to help find a coach.  If your young adult fails courses or a semester, talk about whether she might like to take some time off.  Young adults with ADHD often need time to mature (the logical thinking part of their brains matures about 3 years more slowly than their neuro-typical peers) and they often need training in how to stay organized.

Think deeply about whether or not to offer help, and listen non-judgmentally to figure out how.

Your young adult may struggle with staying organized, maintaining relationships, and more.  By listening to your young adult non-judgmentally you may be able to understand areas of distress where a little extra love can help, without you taking over.  Here are some examples:

  • Your son is ready to look for a job but feels overwhelmed by the prospect.  You might help him create a checklist of steps he can take to help him sort through his many choices of what to do next, and be a proof-reader for his resume.  These could help him feel less overwhelmed, but neither interferes with the job search as his.
  • Your daughter has moved to a new town and is struggling to find a good doctor to help with her medication management.  You could talk with her about the steps (call the insurance carrier or go online for names/numbers; call the available doctors who are closest to see if they are taking new patients; set up a preliminary appointment before refills are due).  You might even play the role of the person to whom she is accountable for this one project to help her get motivated by agreeing to deadlines for each step and then checking in with her.

When you visit each other, refrain from critiques.

Young adults with ADHD are often (though not always) SLOBS!  Too bad – it’s their apartment, not yours.  And when they visit you, remember that your requests and actions indicate your priorities.  My recommendation is to prioritize your relationship with your young adult over the cleanliness of your home.  Don’t nag for them to pick up; instead, close the door to their room.  Put a laundry basket or large bin near the messiest ‘drop everything’ areas in your home and use it to remove clutter when it starts to bug you. In our house, our visiting young adults know to look in the living room laundry basket to find things they dropped but can’t find anymore.  Better that I take 5 seconds to move stuff that’s bothering me than my kids learn that they don’t want to visit because I bug them too much.  And remember, for some with ADHD, the offer of 'help' when it's not really requested can be seen as a critique.  So test the waters to see if your help would be genuinely appreciated before offering to deep clean the kitchen

Take ADHD into account in your expectations for your young adult.

Re: the sloppiness mentioned above – I don’t expect my daughter or her boyfriend will maintain their own home in a super-clean way, either…and have encouraged them to consider the expense of a house cleaner just as important as a car payment or their rent.  They don’t have to do the cleaning as I might have when I was younger.  My support of this idea helped them move past feeling awkward about how much this could help them.

Reach out and stay in touch.

With ADHD, it's often 'out of sight, out of mind.' So you might not hear from your young adult child as often as you would like.  That's not because they don't love you, or that they don't want to hear from's that they are focused on what is right in front of them and that's typically not you.  So do call regularly, text to share news, and stay in touch with their lives (and them with yours.)  That connection is precious, and you shouldn't let ADHD symptoms get in the way.

Don’t underestimate your young adult!! 

Perhaps because you were worried, you may have focused on the struggles your young adult faced when he was a child.  But there are also SO many positives and wonderful things, too.  One of the best gifts you can give your young adult is clear, unadulterated, admiration for what he or she does well.  Support her ideas and see how they play out vs. suggesting they might not work out.  Your child with ADHD may follow a less traditional path than some, but your loving, non-judgmental support – and your belief that your young adult CAN reach for the stars – is really important.