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Dear Care and Feeding,
I am a childless woman who has recently moved next door to a family with three kids, in a pretty close-knit neighborhood. The middle child has been diagnosed with ADHD, and he seems to fit the classic stereotypes of a kid with ADHD to a T. I also have ADHD, which was diagnosed just last year, when I was well into my twenties, and I’m troubled by some of the ways this kid is treated. For example, being threatened with grounding for a week if he misses the bus in the morning. Another time, one of the other neighbors chided him for speaking too loudly, and then dismissed his explanation that he doesn’t hear well so it’s hard for him to tell how loud he’s being.
I know I’m projecting a bit of my own experience on to him, but I’m worried about what messages this kid is getting from the adults around him about how he’s a screwup. A lot of these things he’s being reprimanded for are largely out of his control at this age, and he needs support in finding workable systems, not scorn for failing to live up to expectations. Is there any way I can help support this kid? I would happily lend a listening ear or some direct support, but I see his parents far more often than I’m around him.
Is there any reasonable way for me to approach the parents about this?
—Neighborly or Nosy?
Dear Neighborly or Nosy,
This depends entirely on how you learned about his diagnosis. If it was directly from one of the parents, or from the child himself, then I think you have a direct path. Tell the parents that you too have ADHD and talk about how this shows up in your life, and what helps you (and doesn’t). Tell them you feel a kinship with their child and that you’d like to help. Offer them support as well as personal anecdotes and information. But: if you learned about this diagnosis not from the family but through “close-knit” neighborhood gossip, I think it would be overstepping to speak to the parents in this way.
Still—whether you approach the parents or not—you can be supportive of the kid. I know you say you don’t see him often, but you were present when a neighbor scolded him for being too loud and dismissed his explanation. Such a moment presents you with the opportunity to chime in: “Hey, I’m always being told I’m too loud too! I have the same problem—I can’t always hear myself well enough to judge how loud I’m being.” Keep an eye out for other opportunities of this kind, and go out of your way to talk to him directly, warmly and with sincere interest in whatever is on his mind, when you do see him. An adult outside the family can make a huge difference in a kid’s life. If you feel comfortable doing so and an organic opportunity arises, you can tell him about your ADHD diagnosis (without mentioning that you know of his, unless he has disclosed that to you) and how it affects you, as well as strategies that have helped you. This would go a long way toward helping him feel free to talk to you about some of the challenges he may be facing, or just to vent to you. And everybody needs somebody to vent to. But especially a kid who may not be feeling well-understood at home.