Tuesday, January 28, 2014

ADHD and Lying

This is a biggie, and a real problem for many parents when it comes to ADHD and schoolwork. 

“Have you done that science project?”
“Yep, and handed it in.”
“Have you finished your English paper?”
“Yep, and handed it in.”

Note from teacher (usually by the time it’s really too late to make them up) - I’m missing these assignments...........

Follow-up results in some more disassembling - “I put it right on the desk, she must have lost it.”  OR  “I emailed it, his email must not be working.”  All attempts at finding the missing work are unsuccessful.


Some of you may be laughing or crying right now, because you know exactly what I’m talking about. 

So why does this happen?  In short, it’s a mal-adaptive way of dealing with being overwhelmed, and it’s a phenomena that is created by all whole host of executive functions coming up short.  First of all, we have the personal disorganization that results in the assignment being forgotten, or the rubric being lost (which your child needs because they really didn’t hear the multi-step directions due to inability to attend), or not keeping up with the calendar (“what day is it, anyway?”) So the assignment doesn’t get done, completed, and/or handed in on the right day.  Now stuff is starting to back up, so poor sense of time and inability to manage emotion lead to feeling overwhelmed.  Personal disorganization comes up again with a lack of necessary skills to plan to “dig out”.  More work backs up and the cycle repeats.  In the meantime, parents and teachers are asking (nagging) about getting everything done.  Because your child values short-term gain over long term reward (which requires perseverance), the illogical conclusion is to just tell everyone what they want to hear and hope that somehow it all works out / the next assignment has a better grade to make up for the zero / they will really get organized tomorrow / they will study really hard for the next test and get a 100 / or other sorts of magical thinking. 

This can get to be habitual and really devastating, so it’s important to address in a really practical, consistent way.  Some suggestions:

1.   Don’t condone or excuse the lying, but don’t focus on it as a character flaw.  People who feel that they are inherently “bad” don’t see a reason to try and improve.  A better approach is talk about how you will work together to end the need for lying because it damages relationships.
2.  When your child volunteers that they have assignments that are missing or incomplete, thank them for telling you. You want to encourage this.  It’s yet another way they have to admit they messed up which is difficult for all of us.  People with ADHD need to learn how to ask for appropriate help when they need it, and you are reinforcing that skill.
3.  Assume that stuff is sometimes going to get lost and that not all assignments are likely to get turned in on time.  It’s your reality, and your child’s reality, especially in middle school and high school.  Work to mitigate the problem as much as possible rather than deny that it’s ever going to happen.
4. If nobody else is doing it, keep track of back assignments and calendar their completion in a public place.  Follow up with the teacher immediately on the day they are supposed to be turned in to make sure they got there.  This often needs to happen into high school, and despite hearing from teachers that your child needs to be independent, your child needs that extra accommodation and it’s fine. 
5.  If you have a copier or scanner, ask your child everyday if they have a rubric, form, directions, or a completed assignment that they would like to copy.  Put the copy in a designated location and give them back the original.  Sometimes those assignments really do get lost and it’s good habit to have a back-up.  Scan or copy all important documents.
6. Talk to your children about ways to repair relationships that have been damaged by lying including teachers, friends, and you.  Often an apology note to the teacher with some steps your child is taking to avoid the problem in the future can go a long way.  Emphasize that relationships can be repaired.

It takes time to learn new habits.  If your child has started lying about schoolwork, it’s not going to stop overnight.  Your continuing positive approach can help turn the habit around and teach you how to live with your child and teach your child how to live with themselves.

Follow me on Twitter @pam327 - FB at Pamela Mecca Seymour, LPC

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