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My daughter with ADHD often needs to ‘info dump.’ How do we manage?

(iStock/María Alconada Brooks/Washington Post illustration)

Q: My daughter is a persistent “info dumper.” I suspect, based on her dad, that she is neurodivergent in some fashion. (She has been diagnosed mildly attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder inattentive.)

I was thinking of spending a set amount of time with her daily for her to info dump. Do you think 15 minutes a day of my direct attention for her to talk about whatever her interest is is enough? I try to listen throughout the day, but I work from home, she has an older brother who also wants my attention and sometimes we are trying to discuss something else. (She’s pretty focused on her current topic and will just start talking about it in the middle of a conversation.)

I thought I could arrange with her for that daily time, so she could look forward to it. Any other ideas as to how I can direct this trait and help her feel heard and seen?

A: Thanks for writing in. “Info dumping,” or talking about an interest or passion, usually in detail and at length, is frequent in both ADHD and autism. In ADHD, the impulsivity plus passion equals a “spilling” kind of feeling, and the motor behind it can feel as if it’s whirring. It may feel the same in autism, but folks with autism report that it feels more passionate and important rather than impulsive.

In both cases, it can be hard for the person to “read the room,” or to see that the person they are talking to is bored, overwhelmed or busy with something else. Also, in both cases, no one is trying to be rude or insensitive, and they aren’t trying to bully; the info dumping is a way for these children to connect and share. In fact, info dumping is often a love language for many children with autism, and it should absolutely be encouraged and treated as special. I found the site And Next Comes L to be enormously helpful in understanding info dumping.

I don’t know how old your child is, but she has already received a diagnosis of mild ADHD of the inattentive type, so I’m guessing older than 5 or 6. I am so glad that you are thinking of helping her to feel heard and seen, because this kind of perspective will keep you in a compassionate state of mind.

As for 15 minutes a day being enough to listen to the dumping, well, I don’t know. If 15 minutes were enough, then you wouldn’t have written, right? The reality is that life is moving fast, you have many obligations and you want to find a technique that does two basic things: You want her to feel loved and heard, and you want her to learn skills that help her share information in a way that connects her to the outside world in an easier fashion. Does this mean that she may not find other children just like her, and that they may not dump on each other? Absolutely, and this is one of the great joys of life. She can absolutely be who she is while also learning how to share or not share some of her passions.

If you haven’t already, I would assemble a good care team: her pediatrician, the person who tested her for ADHD, her teachers, the school psychologist. (And if she hasn’t already had a full neuropsych test, you might want to look more deeply into that.) I would also work with a specialist who understands these wonderful children and knows how to skill-build with them. The reason I recommend looping in the school is that I am curious to know whether the dumping is happening in school, or whether she is saving it all up for when she gets home. In either case, do not manage this by yourself. There is tremendous support out there. Check out psychologist Holly Blanc Moses and her work. She has an excellent podcast, “The Autism ADHD Podcast,” and is a wonderful resource.

For now, I would absolutely set up a daily “Listen to Rosie” time. Sit with your daughter and say: “There is so much you want to tell me, and I want to give you all of my attention. I have to start dinner and help your brother with homework, so let’s set up our time for 6:30 p.m.” Maybe it’s 15 minutes; set a timer, and truly listen. If she has more to share, you can keep a notebook handy for her to write in, or she can record her words onto a phone. And although she isn’t intending to be rude, you also don’t want to constantly stop what you are doing or ignore her brother to accommodate this, so get ready to gently, lovingly and firmly redirect. Again: Working with a professional will help you immensely.

Get the support you need now, so the resentment and agitation don’t build. Good luck.

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