I always kind of laugh when I am told that someone doesn’t “believe” in ADHD. With brain imaging and research on our side, that’s about as logical as saying that someone doesn’t “believe” in heart disease or Parkinsons.
And yet, people continue to let their beliefs override scientific evidence. And when those people are our close family or friends, it can make us feel misunderstood, angry, disrespected, disconnected, embarrassed, self-conscious and overall uneasy.
In this blog post I break down the thought process I go through when faced with what I call an “ADHD-denier.”
1. Check In: Do you KNOW or are you ASSUMING?
The first thing I have to do when I get the feeling that someone disagrees with my parenting style, or doesn’t believe in my child’s neuro developmental condition is to double-check my instinct. Sometimes I make assumptions based on people’s silence, the look on their face, or the tone in their voice – at least the way I perceive those things – to mean that they don’t approve of my parenting, or they don’t believe in my child’s condition.
But I have been wrong more than once. I have become needlessly defensive when I thought I was interpreting cues of disapproval. I realized later that my own insecurities about my parenting and what other people thought of my child had me on high-alert. My own vigilance and defensiveness caused me to misinterpret what were intended to be looks of concern to be signals of disbelief or disapproval.
Remember that the way we interpret others is based on our own thoughts, beliefs, and feelings about ourselves in our situations.
One of the easiest ways to get through family events is to enter the situation with the assumption that everyone is working from a place of positive intention.
2. Ask Yourself: Do You Need to Care?
Assuming you’re right about your family member’s “disbelief” in your child’s neurobiological condition, the second thing I encourage you to decide is whether you actually need to care.
In today’s world of social media and curated online appearances, many of us have begun to care way too much about what other people think of us and our decisions.
The first thing you need to do when you feel yourself caring about someone else’s opinion of you, is to re-affirm your own knowledge and beliefs about your child, your parenting, and your decisions.
Here’s what I know about most parents raising kids with ADHD:
- You know without a doubt that your child struggles differently than other children.
- You have tried all sorts of parenting techniques – many of which are more “mainstream” and “accepted” by the general public and you know that they don’t work for you.
- You make decisions in conjunction with (sometimes multiple) health professionals.
- You are committed to doing what is best for your child – even if it means doing things differently than what other people expect or believe.
Here is what I know about most people who don’t “believe” in ADHD:
- They’ve never raised a child with ADHD.
- If they have raised a child with ADHD, that child likely suffered tremendously.
- They’ve never lived it, worried about it, or had to make the hard decisions you have.
- They aren’t working closely with professionals.
In other words, compared to you, “nonbelievers” know virtually nothing about ADHD or the unique parenting challenges that come along with it.
And when you remind yourself that you are making decisions and parenting in a way that comes from a place of superior knowledge and experience, another person’s “disbelief” becomes less and less relevant.
If you decide that great-uncle-Bob’s or aunt Mary’s opinions about your child, you, or your parenting just don’t matter, then move ahead with your head high.
However, being surrounded by non-believers requires some extra emotional energy for both you and your child so be sure you build in enough down time and away time to recharge and make the holiday a success for you and your child.
Sometimes when I’ve decided not to care about someone’s opinion, I use my super-ninja way of describing ADHD so that people give me automatic respect and are a little too intimidated to ask questions. I describe that approach here in my Facebook Live!
3. Move Forward: Ask Permission To Educate.
Sometimes, however, the person who is expressing disbelief isn’t just your great-uncle who you see once or twice a year. It’s someone closer to you. It’s someone who – if you had your preference – could be a support system to you. It may be your mother, father, sister or best friend. It’s someone who you naturally do want their support.
In this instance, I encourage parents to have a conversation requesting their permission to give them more up-to-date information about ADHD so that you can be on an even playing field.
An example of how that conversation might go would look like this:
- First, express your understanding about why they might believe what they do: “I know it’s hard to see Ethan acting out the way he does. And I know it’s hard to understand why he does it, or why I respond the way I do – and sometimes don’t. ADHD is a confusing thing and I know sometimes the things I do might seem counterintuitive to you.”
- Second, assure them that you are working from place of knowledge and resources and that it’s not easy: “I do want you to know that I work closely with our doctor and am constantly doing research to make sure I’m making the best decisions I can for Ethan. Some days I feel like I’m running in circles. It’s not an easy job, that’s for sure.”
- Third, make sure they know that you value their support but don’t need it: “I know this is hard for you to understand, but I do miss your support in this area. I certainly feel alone and frustrated sometimes, and I would really value knowing that you support – or at least try to understand – these hard decisions I’m making.”
- Finally, ask for permission to educate: “I know we may not always agree about exactly how I do things, but I’d love to give you access to some of the knowledge about ADHD that I have. It would at least make us both speak from a place of knowledge. You may or may not agree with it, but I’d feel better receiving your opinion about things if I knew you had at least read or heard some of the information I have. Would you do that for me?”
At this point, their response is 100% on them. You’ve done what you can.
If they say “yes,” send them this post about Executive Function and this post about Executive Age. Express gratitude that they are willing to join you on this journey. Don’t expect too much too fast.
If they say “no,” then that’s unfortunate for them and for you. You will need to begin working on boundaries so that you can maintain a relationship with this person – if you’d like to – without needing their approval on something so incredibly important and emotional for you that they are not willing to learn anything about.
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