ADHD and Laziness: Your Child with ADHD Isn’t Lazy—Why This Assumption is Harmful
If someone told you to sit and watch paint dry for an hour, would you hop off the couch to get started? That’s about how much motivation people with ADHD have when it comes to performing mundane tasks that make up our daily lives.
Things like cooking, doing laundry, and keeping a clean house may be second nature to you, even cathartic at times. For people with ADHD however, it can literally cause them pain to get started.
Let’s go over the science of ADHD, and why it’s wrong (and totally harmful) to shrink someone’s struggle with it down to simple “laziness”.
The Dysregulation of Dopamine in the ADHD Brain
One symptom of ADHD is low motivation. This symptom alone is not enough for a diagnosis, as many things can lead to low motivation. (Depression being one of them.) However, ADHD brains struggle with regulating levels of dopamine, the satisfying, feel-good hormone that comes when we do something fun, productive, or energetic.
Running around the block can spark dopamine. Finishing a task, like doing the dishes, can also spark dopamine (read: finishing). Eating sugary foods like chocolate, enjoying sex, and getting a text notification can also cause dopamine spikes.
While non-ADHD people have healthy levels of dopamine throughout the day (followed by spikes when they’re having a good time), ADHD people tend to rest at lower levels in general. This affects their ability to self-motivate when it comes to tasks that don’t provide an immediate dopamine hit.
How Executive Dysfunction Affects Children with ADHD
A lack of dopamine is not the only biological factor affecting those with ADHD. They also struggle with executive dysfunction. Executive functioning describes a person’s ability to plan and execute tasks in full, as well as recall important details along the way.
Something as simple as remembering to eat breakfast can feel like a never-ending task to someone with ADHD. They don’t see it as “having breakfast”, rather they see it as “choosing a dish, prepping the dish, cooking the dish, eating the dish, and cleaning up after the dish.”
When you see life-sustaining tasks like this in an exhaustingly mundane kind of way, it becomes far too easy to neglect them altogether.
ADHD Self-Esteem in a World That Thinks They’re Lazy
It can be grossly frustrating to believe you’re trying your hardest to overcome the mental block of accomplishing a task, just to be told you need to “try harder.” Their ability to plan out and execute tasks is already compromised. Plus, if they struggle to self-start due to low amounts of dopamine, they feel more compelled to wait until the last-minute when an anxiety-driven sense of urgency pushes them to complete it.
All this to say, those with ADHD have a special relationship with anxiety. If they’re constantly being told that they’re lazy, don’t care enough, or simply need to try harder, they will internalize and start to believe it.
The Relationship Between ADHD, Depression, and Anxiety
Any mental health disorder that goes untreated can lead to depression and anxiety. ADHD tends to be a big one that’s overlooked, especially in Black communities and in women. If you spend your entire life struggling, never understand why, and never know where to go for help, you will begin to give up on yourself.
Plus, people with ADHD tend to struggle with impulsivity. Their choices can quickly spiral their lives out of control, digging them deeper into a pit of depression and anxiety. When they run out of options, research shows that at least half of those with ADHD turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with worsening depression.
No amount of blaming can help someone with ADHD overcome the problems their brain was never built to solve. For that, they need therapy and medication.
Think your child may have ADHD? Schedule an appointment with me today.