A Message I Want To Share With Adults Who Work With #Adhd Kids Is: Pushing Them The Way That You Push Neurotypical Kids Harms Them For Life


twitter thread from The_Weed

A message I want to share with adults who work with #ADHD kids is: pushing them the way that you push neurotypical kids harms them for life.

Here’s what I mean.

When I start working clinically with an adult who has ADHD, one of the first things we do /1

is we start to map out their trauma history. And I don’t mean non-adjacent childhood traumas (which are also relevant, but we get to those later) I mean their #ADHD-specific, childhood-based traumas that result from having ADHD while growing up in an ableist society. /2
As you can imagine, this is really sad stuff. Bright kids who were called lazy because they literally *could not* complete tasks the way teachers/parents wanted; hyperactive kids longingly watching their peers run and jump at recess while they sat staring at a math worksheet; /3
Worse stuff too—kids *abused* for not finishing chores or not getting A’s or forgetting—all while their brain will *literally* not let them—which creates this horrific feedback loop: fear causes more forgetting, which brings harsher punishment, causing more fear, and on and on /4
But the most pernicious phrase that tends to wreck kids, and then seems to ruin things past childhood, past college (if that happens) and into their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and beyond, is: “you have SO much potential!” This phrase can be deadly for #ADHD kids and we need to stop. /5
Here’s why.

When the phrase “you have so much potential” is shared with a neurotypical kid, it is a message of hope. It’s an adult seeing a child who has the capacity to do great things if they follow certain steps and make certain choices. It’s nurturing. It’s lovely! /6

But when the phrase “you have so much potential!” is used with a kid with #ADHD, whether intended or not, it is most often an ablist, micro-aggressive dig at their disability that tells the child that they should be striving for things that are actually impossible. /7
And then when the kid with #ADHD tries with ALL THEIR MIGHT to bridge the gap (examples below) to please the adult—to “meet their potential” in other words—they fail. Predictably. Naturally. And tragically. And the adult is disappointed in them. /8
And the problem is, it doesn’t stop there. Because at that point, often the adult is invested, and the adult’s ego is also on the line. So they say “okay, try again! Don’t give up! You can do it!” And the kid tries harder. And fails again. And again. And again. /9
And THEN the adult starts providing lots of ideas that help neurotypical folks saying “you can meet your potential if you just use these tools!” (Alarms, planners, apps, schedules, reminders, whatever.) And the kid has hope, and tries AGAIN. And fails AGAIN. And at this point /10
The adult is exasperated and doesn’t understand why their “help” as a teacher or parent or counselor isn’t working. And the kid doesn’t understand either. And that’s when other horrible messages really take hold. Like “lazy” and “messy” and “unmotivated” and “disobedient.” /11
And the adult actually believes those labels because the adult really *could* see “potential” (like high IQ, or amazing musical aptitude, or incredible athletic ability) and now really believes the kid must just not *want* to get to rehearsal in time (or whatever) /12
And the kid… that poor #ADHD kid is SO confused. Because they DO love the sport or skill or interest and they really DO love the adult and want to please them. And they didn’t. Over and over.

So they really MUST just be lazy. Or unmotivated. Or careless. Or inconsiderate. /13

And now take that, and multiply it by every school year, by every class, by every teacher that sees something in them, by every unmet goal or hope or dream, year after year, situation after situation, disappointment after disappointment.

What you get is an adult in despair. /14

What you get is an adult who actually believes they’re lazy and good for nothing.

What you get is an adult who’s deeply depressed and unable to like any part of themselves, who has no idea the real truth that’s been their all along:

They have an ADA-recognized disability. /15

Adults who use the phrase “you have so much potential!” with kids that have #ADHD and are exhibiting normal symptoms of the disorder are hurting those kids. The way to know for sure is to notice what’s next. If it’s any kind of “but” this is not encouragement. It’s harm. /16
Let me give you some examples so you can see it more clearly. Let’s say Shannon (12) tests in the 99th percentile for math, but inexplicably does not do her homework, and when she occasionally does, it is riddled with errors. Her teacher is putting together grades and notices /17
with tests (all A’s) and assignments (mostly missing) combined, Shannon is getting a C. Her teacher pulls her aside and asks why she is so behind on homework. Shannon looks confused and horrified. She says “I don’t know” and says she tries to remember but forgets. /18
Shannon’s teacher is confused by this situation. Shannon is very quiet in class, has no behavior problems, and is willing to participate when asked. She obviously understands the material, but seems unmotivated to do homework like her peers. It strikes Shannon’s teacher /19
how unfair it is that some kids do ALL the homework possible and even extra and then don’t score as well as Shannon on tests. Surely someone as gifted as Shannon should be willing to do the small effort of doing the assignments in order to get an A. It seems to the teacher /20
that Shannon must not really care about school, and the carelessness on the assignments she does turn in makes the teacher think Shannon doesn’t appreciate this class. This leads the teacher to say “Shannon, you have SO much potential! You are doing better than most /21
of your peers on tests. But your assignments need to be turned in, and they need to be less sloppy. If you would just take the time to finish your work you would be one of my most successful students!”

Bill struggles in his English class. His mom can’t understand why /22

when basically all he does is read books about military operations throughout history, he has a great vocabulary, and loves to write fiction about his favorite battles. “Bill you have so much potential! In fact, if you would spend *half* the time you spend obsessing /23
about old wars as you would on your assignments you would easily get an A!”

But anytime Bill tries to study for English, he just finds himself sucked back to Wikipedia, and he has no idea why. When his mom asks, he shrugs and doesn’t know what to say. /24

At that, Bill’s mother calls him lazy and says “if you don’t get your homework done you’re grounded.”

Bill tries, but can’t get himself to do it and has no idea why. Eventually he accepts his fate as a disappointing kid who just likes being lazy. /25

I could go on and on with these (I have plenty from my own life) but the point is: if you are an adult who is frustrated by a kid with high aptitude and low performance, and it turns out they have #ADHD it is *critical* to frame the conversation differently. /26
Instead of focusing on “you got a 3.8, but if you just applied yourself you could have a 4.0 cuz you’re so smart…” thus setting an unreachable standard, let them know they are awesome exactly where they are, with exactly what they have done. Tell them they’re perfect as is. /27
Find out what interests them, what gets the dopamine flowing in their brain, and then celebrate their victories as they follow those interests with abandon, even if doing so doesn’t line up with standard educational conventions or milestones. /28
Trust your #ADHD kid or student. Trust that their brain is taking them where they need to go even if it makes you nervous. And when they have a stroke of insight or inspiration, foster it with them and watch what they create or become. /29
I cannot tell you the number of #ADHD kids I’ve worked with whose parents were TERRIFIED they might not graduate high school cuz they were “wasting all their time online” doing some hobby, and when I asked “and how much money are they making with their online hobby?” /30
And then when we do the math, it turns out the kid is *already earning* more than most college graduates by spending hours and hours selling art on etsy or making cringe YouTube collages or whatever else their interest and inspiration has taken them. /31
But it’s not always like that—sometimes a kid needs more time than that before they become wildly successful as they follow their internal compass. But Just remember that the path for an ADHD person is almost always unusual and unconventional and a bit scary. /32
But when they are believed in and supported in their abilities instead of seen only as valid with how much “potential” they have of being like their neurotypical peers, #ADHD kids end up finding the COOLEST paths to the most UNEXPECTED places, and they often make $ easily. /33
I had more to say, but honestly my own hyperfocus just lost steam and I need to move on with my day (as a private business owner who’s made over six figures for years, who got where I am unconventionally cuz I have #ADHD and it is a superpower, and it is for your kid too!) /34
ETA: some folks with #ADHD have pointed out that calling it a “superpower” is problematic and they’re correct. This disability doesn’t have to have some magical quality to be okay, and people experiencing it are ALL valid with or without ableist success markers (like income).
I’ve been sitting with this thread for a day now, knowing something is off, or that there is more to say and not knowing quite how to as it puts up numbers, but I’m kinda like “fuck it, being imperfect, impetuous and impulsive is the name of the game here, so LET’S DO PART II” /1
First, I think it’s hilarious and fitting that I ended the thread in a totally problematic and kinda cheap way cuz the dopamine went ALL THE WAY BYE BYE and I didn’t know how to wrap up so I was just kinda like “I’m awesome you’re awesome bye now!!!!” and fuckin’ bailed 😂 /2
Like, could I have managed a more perfect case in point than doing a thing that had some “potential” but then fucking it up a bit at the end cuz I have #ADHD and so it just needs to be okay that it wasn’t perfect because ADHD is real and actually affects stuff like this? /3
But, that problematic thing I did really WAS problematic and it kind of took away from something that I think is absolutely critical to communicate to those of you who resonate with this thread. So I am taking a second to try to put that thing into words as best I can. /4
And that thing is: if you have #ADHD it literally DOES NOT MATTER what you have accomplished, what you have made, what you have become, on any level, in any way. YOU ARE VALID exactly as you are in this moment. /5
Some of you might have been the 3.8 that couldn’t get to the 4.0.

Some were a 2.8.

Some had to drop out of school altogether.


Some of us are “conventionally successful” in ways you can put on a resume.

Some of us are “unconventionally successful” in ways that make a good story at a party.

And some of us are so traumatized by all of this that we are unable to work at all and we are struggling. /7

Some of us are *literally* on disability, living with friends or loved ones, just trying as hard as we can to survive.

And some of us are homeless.

And some of us have fallen through the cracks of society, and have access to nothing.


Some of us are so damaged by a LIFETIME of living in an ableist world that doesn’t accommodate us, that hurts us over and over, that we are broken and bereft, relying on weed or alcohol or drugs to make it through each day, struggling to put food on our table or to stay alive. /9
And, I’m just going to say it:


Some of us did not survive the trauma of living with the way our brains work in our society.

And that is heartbreaking and wrong and horrifying. It is sobering. /10

My own grandpa, who had #ADHD before diagnosis was a thing, died at 47 because of the way this disorder wrecked his whole life and all his relationships. I never got to meet him. My grandparents split up when my dad was 3. And I am crying right now as the next part sinks in: /11
Not long after the divorce my grandpa set up a visit to take my dad to the movies. And my dad sat at the window all day waiting for his dad to get him.

He was 3. And my grandpa never showed up.

He never showed again.

My dad didn’t hear from him again for 14 more years. /12

And the thing that is sinking in right now is how that story is SO OBVIOUSLY about #ADHD.

My grandpa felt utterly ashamed.

He missed the window to pick my dad up. Maybe he forgot the day. Maybe he had time blindness and it got so late he couldn’t bring himself to show up. /13

ANY of us that has #ADHD knows this feeling:

The feeling of missing the ONE important thing.

Of forgetting something nobody else would EVER forget.

And we all know the stinging shame, the absolute humiliation, of the messages we believe about that mistake. /14

That we don’t really give a shit.

That we must not *really* care.

That we must not love our kid.

And the one that is making me cry here on the floor of my office: that we must be the shittiest parent on planet Earth.

He must have thought he was SUCH a horrible person. 💔 /15

And so… he just vanished.

He believed he was a horrible dad, and he believed my dad was probably better off without him. And so he just disappeared from my dad’s life. He missed his own son’s ENTIRE CHILDHOOD because #ADHD made him believe he really was worthless. /16

This disorder hurts us DEEPLY. Living in an ableist society with ADHD tears up many of our lives. It tears holes in our families and holes in our hearts. It makes us feel like failures and like a waste of space within humanity. /17
So, I want to take responsibility for my careless and insensitive comment about “superpowers”/career/income. It was deeply off. It didn’t take into account the LUCK that I have experienced. It ignored my privilege as a white, able-bodied, cis-gendered male. It sucked. /18
Yes it gets to be okay that I am a person with #ADHD who will run out of dopamine and make “careless mistakes” (official wording in the DSM V I believe) during a task or activity.

It’s also okay to own that mistake and correct course when I have more dopamine the next day. /19

That’s kinda the whole thing, isn’t it?

We get to love ourselves in our imperfections and GLORIOUS disability fuck-ups. Even IN the fuck-up.

And we get to do our best to disregard voices telling us that we are BAD or WRONG or NOT OKAY. And we get to let go of shame. /20

But please, if you are still reading after round *two* of incessant tweets, I want you to know that you are valid as a good, worthy person NO MATTER WHAT. /21
You are a worthy good person if you finish the homework or you don’t finish the homework.

You are a worthy good person if you remember the appointment or if you forget the appointment.

You are a worthy good person if you get the job or lose the job.


You are a worthy good person if you clean your room or if your room is messy.

You are a worthy good person if you did your chores or forgot your chores.

You are a good, worthy person if you make one dollar or a bazillion dollars or zero dollars.


You are a good, worthy person if you take out the trash, or if you hear the garbage man drive by in the morning and realize you forgot.

You are a worthwhile if you fed yourself well and you are worthwhile of your forgot to eat all day.


You are a worthwhile person if you live in a house, and you are worthwhile if you live in a shelter, and you are worthwhile if you still live with your parents.

You are worthwhile if you remembered to set your alarm before bed, or if you forgot and woke up soooo late.


You are worthwhile if you have found your path towards something Big and Useful, and you are *especially* worthwhile of you NEVER find that path and spend years and decades wandering, alone and scared and wondering if you matter.

You do. You matter. And you are good.


And you are worthwhile if you made a BIG MISTAKE.

Even if it made people sad and mad at you. And even if it made you so upset with yourself you could scream.



You are worthwhile if the lid doesn’t get put on the toothpaste, and even if the milk gets left out.

And you are worthwhile if you say a dumb thing in a Tweet.

And you are worthwhile even if you forget to pick up your son for the movies and he waits for you all day long. /28

You are worthy of love and affection, and of adulation and praise, and of validation for being YOU.

You have ALWAYS been worthy. And you don’t have to earn it.

✨ You were always good! ✨ /29

And I and lots of other people love you.

And they love the child-you that was hurt.

And things are getting better.

And they will get better still.


So hang in there. And be nice to you. And take care of you the best you can. And give yourself one nice thing today, even if it’s as simple as wrapping your arms around yourself and giving yourself a hug.

Cuz you deserve good things. And sometimes good things happen


(And if you are a parent or caregiver and you learned some new things from this thread be gentle with yourself too. We are all learning and growing and you don’t need to be ashamed as you try to learn more and do better for your #ADHD loved ones.)

G’night everyone! ❤️❤️❤️ /32

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.