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ADHD and Parental Separation

answered 10:43 AM EST, Sat March 02, 2013
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anonymous anonymous
My wife and I are separated and we disagree on many things. We have a great 6 year old son and we share custody. He is having some problems with grade 1 and his teacher suggested that he get tested for ADHD. After testing the psychiatrist confirmed the diagnosis and recommended ritalin and some play therapy where he could learn essential skills. To me this a step forward and I am glad we have a diagnosis so that we can start to deal with this in the way we choose. I am not sure if medication is necessary or beneficial or not, but I think it probably is. But my wife will not accept the diagnosis at all and since she will not accept the diagnosis then she will not even agree to the play therapy. Whenever I try to talk to her about this she gets enraged and we end up fighting. I need someone to arbitrate this impossible situation. I feel like if someone who was independent could judge the facts and give a verdict she might be more willing to listen than to me.

E W Says...

You are in a tough situation, no doubt. It is often very difficult for couples in a healthy marriage to agree on every aspect of parenting and even more difficult to agree on parenting when their child is experiencing difficulties.  Add to that the complications of parents who are separated, and at a time when a child really needs his parents to cooperate and communicate, it is least likely to occur.  A lot of mature, reasonable adults have difficulty being reasonable during a relationship crisis, which is understandable, as we are human. However, as a person and professional, I believe strongly that once a child is brought into this world, the parents owe it to that child to do their very best for that child, period.

Without knowing details of your separation, or your plans, I at least want to recommend that the two of you see a counselor.  This counselor can serve as the intermediary/neutral party, and you don't have to see the counselor for relationship counseling if that is not your goal. It should be possible to attend counseling during your separation to help you learn to co-parent - if nothing else - so that you can both help your child deal with your separation.  Whether or not you divorce, relationship stress can be incredibly upsetting for young children. Often parents think it is just "between them" but children see there is a rift in their "home base" and do not have the ability to fully understand or process this.  So what do we do when we feel stressed out, insecure, and distressed, but have no idea what these feelings are or what to do with them? The result is often seen in "acting out" behaviors, such as ADHD.  Regardless of the state of your marriage, as parents, you are vital to helping your child during this time.

On the topic of ADHD - I often explain that in my professional opinion, the best science can offer right now is a glimpse into the possible origins of ADHD. I view it instead as a label for a set of behaviors and I definitely do not see it as an "illness" per se. Rather, it describes what your child's teachers, caregivers and parents might see - he is currently having trouble concentrating, is not sitting still during school as needed, often seems to have too much energy to contain, is having difficulty focusing enough to learn.... and it might only be at school, or at daycare, but it is enough that it is disrupting the activities needed during those times. No one is saying he is "sick"  or "has a disease." Having a label for a group of behaviors, such as ADHD, helps us figure out how to address those behaviors. That's all that means. 

As for the issue of drugs to treat ADHD, I understand the discomfort with that idea.  There are many ways of addressing ADHD that do not involve prescription medications - those include play therapy, behavioral therapy or applied behavioral analysis, parenting skills, diet modifications, etc. But on the other hand, I definitely understand there are times and circumstances when medication can help.  I always suggest taking a child for a general physical check up first, to make sure there are no medical conditions - juvenile diabetes, thyroid, dietary allergies, - any number of things can contribute or detract from a child's behavior.  Your child's doctor may also be able to recommend dietary changes or exercise/health regimens to contribute to the overall health of your child.

Trying to parent during a separation or after a divorce (even during a marriage!) can be very difficult - so kudos to you for continuing to try. We won't always be able to agree on things with our co-parent, but we can agree to keep the child's best interests at heart and not give up - the child is innocent in our parental lack of cooperation.  If nothing else, seeing a counselor on your own can offer you support and help you come up with ideas on gaining more cooperation. A support group might also be useful for those purposes.  Don't give up - you are not alone. Best wishes to you!





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Page last updated Mar 02, 2013

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