Tell Me About It: I’m worn out by my adult son with ADD

My son is now 25, but the struggle to keep him going continues

Illustration: Andy Baker via Getty Images

Illustration: Andy Baker via Getty Images


Q I am so exhausted and worn-out from trying to deal with my problem that I feel like I have come to the end of my tether.

My son is now 25, and the struggle to keep him going continues. I had thought that when he finished education, it would be over. He struggled at school, as he had no concentration and did not respond to cajoling or punishment. Other kids started calling him nasty names and he began to think of himself as stupid or different.

Finally the diagnosis of attention-deficit disorder was given and he began to get support from medication and counselling, but there seems to be no end to the problems.

Firstly, I think the bullying and harassment at school went largely unrecognised, and no one seemed to know how to stop it or even recognise it as abusive.

Then, in college, he struggled to get motivated; he could not get started on essays and studying for exams was impossible. I think he got through because I was so involved in his life: getting him up every morning, organising his days, doing research for his assignments and telling him he could succeed.

He is in a job now but is not doing well. He is ashamed of his inabilities, he is not doing well in his performance reviews and he is afraid to tell his boss of his condition.

Shame and secrecy have dogged him all his life. I am so tired and upset for him but I am drained and do not think I have any reservoir left to offer him. His dad thinks he is just lazy and thinks I am being overinvolved.


A Firstly, I think your son is very lucky to have such a caring and supportive parent in his life. This issue is surfacing as a huge concern for young men in particular, and the supports and back-up needed are only now being put in place.

It is good that he got a diagnosis, as many people are much older when they access services, and the ideas that they are faulty or stupid or lazy are difficult to dislodge.

The first port of call is the GP, and then a referral to a psychiatric and psychological service for diagnosis. Medication is known to help a lot with ADD, and each individual requires specific treatment.

However, there is no doubt that the family also needs support. In many cases, children with ADD are suspended from school many times until finally they leave of their own accord or are forced out because of lack of understanding or bullying. These children often suffer from lack of friends as a result of going from school to school, and they can compensate by getting involved with groups that are outside the norm.

ADD can affect anyone; often those affected have very high IQs, which can result in huge frustration and tension for the sufferer.

Unfortunately, this is often taken out on the person closest to them; in your case, this person is you. Who else will still be there for them when they have vented their feelings? The resultant relationship is often one of intense emotional expression, as you are probably the only person he can be totally himself with.

Many people with ADD learn to hide what is going on. They compensate by not putting themselves forward for promotion or by blaming the system for their struggles.

In a way they are right; there is not enough understanding or support in place yet, but there is hope as more knowledge and professional expertise are put in place.

However, your son has experienced a lot of shame and it is difficult for him to face the reality of his situation and be honest about it. He needs to take matters into his own hands, as continuing to rely on you may infantilise him, and he may respond to his work in a similar way as he has responded to his family and school before this.

It will not be easy for him, but if he accesses support on his own behalf, he will stand a much better chance of success. You say his father thinks he is just lazy, and perhaps this is a lever that needs to be activated. If his father could attend some medical services with him, he might see the truth of the diagnosis and become more of a support to his son.

This might alleviate some of the pressure on you and allow you to take a step back. Remember that you can only give what resources you have, and you clearly need to renew your own energy and focus on your own life too.

Trish Murphy is a psychotherapist. For advice, email We regret that personal correspondence cannot be entered into

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