Carolyn Hax: Is an ADHD father in denial about his son’s symptoms?

Carolyn Hax
Columnist May 4, 2011

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My husband had ADHD diagnosed as an adult; his childhood school reports read like a textbook case.

Our 8-year-old son’s midyear report comments repeatedly on how bright he is, but every paragraph ends with “but he is easily distracted” or “he has trouble following multi-part instructions” or “he struggles getting his wonderful ideas onto paper.” My husband doesn’t think much of our son’s teacher, who has been at the school 35-plus years and has a somewhat formulaic approach.

I read this and thought we should have our son tested for ADHD. My husband read it and said: “Can you believe it? It reads just like my reports. His teacher must not be seeing how great he really is.”


(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)

I think he is in denial; he’s very sensitive about the ADHD and is upset that I once mentioned to the teacher that we have a history of attention issues in the family. He thinks that handed her a formula. I think the formula’s right. How do I approach this with him with sensitivity?

Overcoming denial

He’s so sensitive that you can’t mention it? And he can’t see past his own defenses for the sake of his son?

If you can mention it, then just say to your husband in a calm moment: “I understand why you want me to be the reason Son’s teacher is seeing signs of ADHD. However, ADHD is believed to have a strong hereditary component. Just in case Son would benefit from ADHD treatment and strategies, I’d like to start the process of having him screened.”

If he still resists, ask your pediatrician to recommend someone who does ADHD screenings, and schedule a consultation for just you and your husband.

Carolyn:

I think he would be less sensitive if the report had come from a teacher he respected more. I can’t bring it up, or rather, I can, but I have to do it pretty gently. Medication has helped him tremendously, but he is very concerned about the tendency to jump to medication for kids quickly.

We do have an occupational therapy evaluation coming up and are working with a couple of specialists at the school, too, so I may end up asking one of them to deliver the message. (He also knows this is something I’ve been watching out for practically since our son was born and therefore may be too quick on the trigger.)

(Still) overcoming denial

I’m loath to back anyone who is sensitive to the point of denial, especially a parent, because children’s well-being hinges on parents’ ability to face all topics like adults. However, just because your husband is handling them poorly doesn’t mean his concerns aren’t legitimate.

The numbers of young boys with an ADHD diagnosis should give parents pause, and you should at least consider that you’ve closed your mind to the possibility that your son doesn’t have ADHD.

Please find a level-headed, disinterested specialist — someone who isn’t affiliated with the school and who wouldn’t be handling the treatment — and start the screening process. It relies on teacher input, so state your differing opinions of the teacher. Also advise said specialist that you and your husband bring different biases, and tend to agree only on wanting what’s best for your boy.

Write to Tell Me About It, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@
washpost.com
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