Stigma Amplifies Social Rejection and Isolation
Parents of kids with ADHD, and kids and adults with ADHD, face social challenges including social rejection, isolation, and stigma. Kids with ADHD are either neglected (ignored, left out) or rejected (disliked) more often than other kids. Parents of kids with ADHD find that other parents stop inviting them over. Or they are told that their child is no longer welcome at the other house. Sometimes this is a response to the ADHD child’s misguided social behavior (e.g., not being good at taking turns or being too bossy), sometimes it is a response to the child’s frankly inappropriate behavior (e.g., aggression). The neighbors do not understand or know how to work patiently with the child with ADHD, or aren’t sure how to coach their child to respond, and so they push them away.
It’s Crucial to Recognize the Isolation Danger and Seek Support
This brings up the second part of the challenge: the problem of rejection/isolation is amplified by stereotyped or stigmatizing ideas. These include blaming parents for their child’s behavior problems, or labeling a child, teen, or adult as lazy or dumb due to their ADHD symptoms–or even just due to their having the label of ADHD, without even knowing the child. Many developmental disabilities place as much or more burden on a parent than a child with ADHD; but few if any bring as much approbation from other parents. Social support comes quickly if a child is blind, or if a child has Down Syndrome. But support does not come so quickly if a child has ADHD. Scientific observations confirm the isolation families face, and scientific experiments disprove the assumptions that parents of kids with ADHD are abnormal parents. In our own study of parents of kids with ADHD, we found that although a subgroup had elevated depression (as well as ADHD of their own), overall these are parents who have normal personalities and behave as normal parents. They simply don’t have the specialized skills demanded by a special-needs child. By the way, the elevated depression may be due to recently discovered genetic linkage between ADHD and depression, but more often may be due to secondary reactions to the social isolation, and to the discouragement experienced in trying to parent a child with developmental challenges like ADHD. One under-emphasized point that I highlight in my book “Getting Ahead of ADHD” is that it is crucial to recognize the isolation danger and to try to proactively seek and find social support as part of a deliberate self-care strategy when taking on the challenge of raising a child with ADHD.