Like what you see?

Sign up to receive more free parenting advice.

Skip to main navigation Skip to main content
Please enter a search term

ADHD: Parenting with Attention Deficit Disorder

Mother is hugging her daughter
Credit: iStock.com/bogdankosanovic

Parents with ADHD may find essential parenting skills like organisation, planning and time management challenging.

There was once a myth that children, diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), grew out of the neurodevelopmental condition. However, we now know that for most people, ADHD persists into adulthood.

Psychologist, Dr Tamara May, says this is one reason why more and more adults are being diagnosed with ADHD.

“In the past, people were told they would grow out of ADHD, so treatment was often stopped when the person turned 18,” she says.

“Many of these people are once again being diagnosed with ADHD as they realise the symptoms are still significantly impacting their daily functioning.

“There are also many adults who, due to their unique life circumstances and often because they are of high intelligence, made it through their schooling years without being diagnosed.”

ADHD Australia defines ADHD as a complex neurodevelopmental disorder which affects a person's ability to exert self-control and is characterised by patterns of inattention, distractibility, hyperactivity and impulsivity.

A 2019 report by Deloitte, on the social and economic costs of ADHD in Australia, found that 533,300 adults over 20 years old were diagnosed with ADHD. However, there are concerns this number is not accurate due to many being undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Dr May expects the accurate number to be over one million.  

“ADHD in adults can be more subtle than in children,” says Dr May.

She explains that adults may have symptoms of ‘inattentiveness’ which present as difficulties with focusing their attention on tasks, particularly when the tasks are detailed and require a lot of concentration.

“People will often get distracted and procrastinate on these types of tasks which might be university assignments, work tasks or life tasks like completing taxes,” she adds.

“People with ADHD are often forgetful, late and disorganised.”

Adults with ADHD may also have hyperactive-impulsive symptoms which present as being overly talkative, feeling a sense of inner restlessness or having a busy mind that never quietens down.

“People might have difficulty waiting, such as in traffic, or queues, or even when waiting for their turn to speak and may blurt things out,” she says.

Dr May explains that, over time, some adults would have found ways to compensate for these difficulties and their symptoms may not be noticeable to others.

Treatment can help parents with most aspects of their life, including their ability to support their family, work, study, engage in leisure activities and have a positive sense of self
Dr Tamara May is a psychologist, research affiliate at Monash University, and lecturer

Challenges in parenting with ADHD

Dr May explains that some parents with ADHD may find essential parenting skills like organisation, planning and time management challenging.

“Many parents with ADHD can overcompensate and over-organise, while others may rely heavily on a co-parent,” she says.

Mothers with ADHD were found to have less confidence in their parenting ability.

In a 2006 study, mothers with ADHD were found to be less consistent with discipline compared to their peers without ADHD.

They were also found to be less effective at problem solving when dealing with parenting issues.

Fathers with ADHD were more likely to report lax parenting, while fathers with symptoms of impulsivity were also more likely to report being over-reactive with their child.

Studies are also pointing to the heritability of ADHD.

According to a Swedish study, 60 to 90 per cent of ADHD cases in children were inherited from their parents.

ADHD cases are also reportedly more prevalent in children born prematurely - 3 times higher than general population.

A child with ADHD benefits the most from a consistent parenting approach  with clear rules and guidelines.

However, a 2010 study found that the "effectiveness of specific parenting practices for both mothers and fathers may be compromised in parents with ADHD symptoms".

However, while life can be challenging, there is an upside to both parent and child having ADHD.

A study which focused on mothers with ADHD  found they were more likely to ease any negative effects children with ADHD have on parenting as they responded more affectionately to the child.

When both mother and child displayed high levels of ADHD symptoms, the mother’s response was significantly more positive and affectionate.

The most prominent benefit to both parent and child having ADHD is the ability for the parent to act as a positive role model.

A study found that good ADHD parent-child role modelling behaviour provided the child with insight into ADHD symptoms, as well as, modelled coping strategies, and included engaging in a treatment programs for the parents.

Seeking support

Dr May recommends adults with ADHD who have symptoms that impact on their functioning access treatment.

“I would recommend considering both medication and non-pharmacological treatment,” she explains.

“Cognitive behavioural interventions focus on making environmental modifications to minimise the negative impacts of ADHD symptoms but maximise the person's strengths.

“They can teach strategies to help the person maximise their potential.”

She explains that treatment can reduce the core symptoms of ADHD, improve wellbeing and reduce secondary consequences of untreated ADHD like anxiety, depression and even early mortality.

“Treatment can help parents with most aspects of their life, including their ability to support their family, work, study, engage in leisure activities and have a positive sense of self,” she adds.

Challenges in parenting with ADHD

Dr May explains that some parents with ADHD may find essential parenting skills like organisation, planning and time management challenging.

“Many parents with ADHD can overcompensate and over-organise, while others may rely heavily on a co-parent,” she says.

Mothers with ADHD were found to have less confidence in their parenting ability.

In a 2006 study, mothers with ADHD were found to be less consistent with discipline compared to their peers without ADHD.

They were also found to be less effective at problem solving when dealing with parenting issues.

Fathers with ADHD were more likely to report lax parenting, while fathers with symptoms of impulsivity were also more likely to report being over-reactive with their child.

Studies are also pointing to the heritability of ADHD.

According to a Swedish study, 60 to 90 per cent of ADHD cases in children were inherited from their parents.

A child with ADHD benefits the most from a consistent parenting approach  with clear rules and guidelines.

However, a 2010 study found that the "effectiveness of specific parenting practices for both mothers and fathers may be compromised in parents with ADHD symptoms".

However, while life can be challenging, there is an upside to both parent and child having ADHD.

A study which focused on mothers with ADHD found they were more likely to ease any negative effects children with ADHD have on parenting as they responded more affectionately to the child.

When both mother and child displayed high levels of ADHD symptoms, the mother’s response was significantly more positive and affectionate.

The most prominent benefit to both parent and child having ADHD is the ability for the parent to act as a positive role model.

A study found that good ADHD parent-child role modelling behaviour provided the child with insight into ADHD symptoms, as well as, modelled coping strategies, and included engaging in a treatment programs for the parents.

Seeking support

Dr May recommends adults with ADHD who have symptoms that impact on their functioning access treatment.

“I would recommend considering both medication and non-pharmacological treatment,” she explains.

“Cognitive behavioural interventions focus on making environmental modifications to minimise the negative impacts of ADHD symptoms but maximise the person's strengths.

“They can teach strategies to help the person maximise their potential.”

She explains that treatment can reduce the core symptoms of ADHD, improve wellbeing and reduce secondary consequences of untreated ADHD like anxiety, depression and even early mortality.

“Treatment can help parents with most aspects of their life, including their ability to support their family, work, study, engage in leisure activities and have a positive sense of self,” she adds.