Husband and Son Both Have ADHD

A woman seeks advice on how she can help her husband and son, who both have ADHD.
My son is 16 and about to enter tenth grade. He was diagnosed with ADHD while in the first grade. He has been on Ritalin® at different dosage levels ever since. There are some teachers in our school system who do try to help. There is a program for learning disabled children, but some of the teachers still don't give him the help he needs. Reading is not his best subject. This past year a new program was initiated for kids who have reading difficulties to get help at school. My son has little confidence in himself. He is in the high-school marching band, and does well.

His husband also has ADHD and did as a child, and his father did also. My husband has a difficult time dealing with his ADHD as a 42-year-old adult. What can I do to help the two of them? I feel frustrated myself because sometimes I don't know how to help them except give them all the love and support I can. My husband is a talented cartoonist and my son plays music like an angel. If you can give me any help I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you for your time.

It sounds as if your son's ADHD has been well documented and treated for some time. While ADHD can certainly have a negative impact on learning, it's not the same thing as a learning disability. Although many people have both ADHD and LD, these are two separate conditions. It sounds like your son has reading difficulties, but it isn't clear if he has a confirmed learning disability. If you haven't had a recent comprehensive evaluation to help clarify the nature of your son's learning style, then this is the first place to start. Ask the school to do this evaluation, or seek an outside opinion if you want someone to take a "fresh" look at your son.

There are a couple of things to consider in determining whether your son is a candidate for the new reading support program in the school. If he only has ADHD, he may not be getting a lot of services unless the school feels that the condition significantly impairs his learning. However, if he has a learning disability, which by definition has a negative impact on learning, he should be eligible for special education services.

If your son has received special services, but he's still far behind where he should be in school, then request that the school provide more effective services. For example, if your son only gets a little help in the regular classroom from a visiting special education teacher, he may need more intensive one on one or small group instruction in reading. This level of service is more difficult to find in a lot of schools which have moved to an inclusion model, but this just means that you have to ask a little more often or a little more strongly. (You may want to get an advocate to help you approach the school.)

You say that your son has little confidence in himself. Does this apply to his musical abilities as well as his academic performance? It is very important for people with learning disabilities or ADHD to experience success in some area, and I hope that your son's music (and your husband's art) provide a feeling of competence and confidence that are the building blocks of a good self concept. However, few people have the talent of opportunity to build a career based on music, so schoolwork takes on a lot of significance for your son. Make sure he is getting everything he needs from the school. If you are not sure, ask experts outside the school to help you decide.

Your husband might benefit from counseling provided by someone who has expertise in working with adults with ADHD, or he might consider joining a support group for adults with ADHD. You might all want to read (or listen on tape) to two books called Driven to Distraction and Answers to Distraction by Drs. John Ratey and Ned Hallowell, both of whom are very successful physicians who happen to have ADHD. Your son might find such a group helpful at school; check with the school psychologist or guidance counselor.

In the meantime, your love and support are very important resources for both your husband and your son. While you are encouraging them to find appropriate services or programs, keep the focus on their obvious talents and successes. Make sure that they both have places in their lives where the spotlight is shining on their strengths.

Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.

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