While divorce can be a painful process for all children, those who experience Attention Deficit Disorder (“ADD”) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”) may have an even more complicated and difficult time adapting to the inevitable change that comes with his or her parents divorcing. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the disorders are marked by patterns of inattention and impulsivity that can interfere with functioning and/or development. Frequent markers include a weakness in executive functioning skills, and/or the inability to organize cognitive processes such as prioritizing, monitoring behavior, shifting activities and planning ahead.
These characteristics mean that significant life changes can be upsetting to children with ADD/ADHD, especially in stressful situations such as parents’ divorce. Understood, an organization dedicated to supporting parents of children with learning and attention issues, identifies three specific issues that these children may have in the face of a divorce:
- Trouble managing emotions: During a divorce, and its aftermath, it may be difficult for children with ADHD to manage their emotions, like sadness, anger and anxiety.
- Hyperfocusing: This can be one the characteristics of ADHD, and in the wake of a divorce, a child with ADHD may dwell on the unsettling change for a long time.
- Trouble with flexible thinking: Children with ADHD may find it hard to adapt to these changes and adjust their own perceptions.
During a divorce, the child’s health, success in school and peer relationships can often depend upon the willingness and ability of both parents communicate and work cohesively in minimizing the impact of their child’s transition to living in two homes, particularly in the following areas:
- Consistency in Parenting and Organization: It is extremely important that during and after a divorce, both parents present a unified front when talking to and caring for their child with ADD/ADHD. This extends to the child’s medication and other behavioral treatment options, making sure that the child is receiving the medical and mental health care that they need while with one or both parents. In addition, it is crucial to keep rules, schedules and rituals consistent across both households. It may be useful to keep two sets of books and clothes available for children with ADD/ADHD in both households, as these children forget or leave personal belongings at Dad’s home when residing at the Mom’s. This can be particularly acute and frustrating for the parents and child alike in equal time-sharing arrangements where the child does toggle back and forth between his or her parent’s homes.
- Behavior: In general, children with ADD/ADHD may have trouble controlling their own emotions and behaviors, but during a divorce, this control can become even more difficult. Both parents should encourage their child with ADD/ADHD to be open about their emotions, and at the same time, they should remain on the same page about what limits they will set regarding poor behavior. If it is financially feasible, having the child work with a therapist or “coach” who is inherently neutral and communicates with both parents relative to behaviors, strategies, medications.
- Exercise and stimulation: It is vitally important to understand how important exercise and stimulation are for children with ADD/ADHD, and to incorporate physical and challenging activity into the child’s daily routine in both households. Exercise can make it easier for children with ADD/ADHD to focus for longer time periods, get along better with others, and stay more organized in their daily tasks.
It is impossible to shield a child with ADD/ADHD from every challenge that that arises when his or her parents divorce. However, those parents ho are able to present a unified front, understand, communicate and work cooperatively to help their child cope with the inevitable challenges that divorce presents are parents who clearly have their child’s best interests at heart.