The Impact of ADD on the Family

Attention deficit disorder (ADD) not only impacts work, school, and social aspects of a person’s life; adults and children with add also display behaviors that can be trying for other family members. If the symptoms of the disorder are not addressed, the family can become chaotic as it tries to compensate for the person who simply can’t control their behaviors.

Dr. Daniel Amen, one of the leading experts on ADD and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) outlines several reasons ADD has a negative impact on a person’s ability to interact with others in his book, Healing ADD.  Some symptoms of attention deficit which can negatively impact interaction with others include:Social Isolation; Source: Microsoft OfficeCredit: Source: Microsoft Office

  • Social isolation
  • Teasing fighting
  • Misconceptions
  • Distractibility
  • Problems taking turns
  • Speaking with thinking
  • Problems completing chores
  • Difficulty playing or being quiet
  • Sensitivity to noise
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Excessive talking
  • Lack of emotional expression
  • Disorganization
  • High risk taking or thrill seeking
  • Easily frustrated, moody or emotional
  • Tantrums
  • Low self-esteem
  • Looking for turmoil
  • Chronic anxiety, restlessness
  • Failure to see needs of others
  • Lack of learning from the past
  • Chronic procrastination

Indeed, this is a long list and the negative impact of a family member’s behavior can disrupt the cohesiveness of the family system, regardless of whether the member with the disorder is an adult or a child. 

How ADD Impacts the Whole Family

Some behaviors have a ripple effect; for example the behaviors impacting the relationship between the diagnosed child and the parents in turn impact the relationship between the child and the siblings and the relationship between the siblings and the parents.

Procrastination and Disorganization; Source: Microsoft OfficeCredit: Source: Microsoft OfficeChildren with ADD are skilled in creating chaos in their families. They often unconsciously seek stimulation because they have decreased activity in their frontal lobes.[1]  This can take the form of tantrums, repetitive noises and increased physical activity.  They are quite adept at getting their parents to yell at them.

At times, the symptoms of the disorder enable the children or adolescents to split their parents—to get their parents fighting each other.  The mother might blame the father for being too strict or absent; the father may accuse the mother of easily giving in to demands.  Family members begin to expect turmoil and problems. This can result in avoidance of each other or not allowing the Anxiety; Source: Microsoft OfficeCredit: Source: Microsoft Officemember with ADD to complete tasks because of preconceived expectations. 

Parents often deny their children have any problems. They blame schools, teachers, peers, each other, but refuse to acknowledge the untreated ADD.  They can also grieve the loss of having what they deem a “normal” child.  Parents of Attention Deficit children are often on guard because the child may need constant watching to ensure safety.  Many parents feel guilty when they feel anger or have bad feelings toward their children with the disorder.

Children and adolescents are often irritated by their ADD siblings. They live in an environment they do not always see as just or fair.  Parents may reward the child with the disorder for behavior that would be unacceptable from the other family members as a way to pacify the ADD child.  Siblings may be embarrassed by the attention deficit child’s behavior, especially around friends or in other social arenas.

ADD; Photo courtesy of the CDC, Source: Wikimedia CommonsCredit: Photo courtesy of the CDC, Source: Wikimedia CommonsIn some families, the child with ADD is identified as the “bad” child and another child in the family is identified as the “good” child.  This creates resentment from the diagnosed child and the “good” child often sabotages any progress the child with the disorder might make in order to maintain the status quo.

Siblings often resent being forced to include ADD siblings in play or activities. They can become frustrated by the behavior of the identified sibling and may become tired of the struggles over rules and control during games. The frustration may boil over into anger and siblings may strike out.  Like their parents, siblings may feel guilt over bad feelings toward their ADD sibling.

Medication for ADHD; Photo courtesy of Xanor, Source: Wikimedia CommonsCredit: Photo courtesy of Xanor, Source: Wikimedia CommonsEngaging in family therapy is one way to help decrease the chaos in the family.  Whether the identified member is a child or an adult, getting treatment for the symptoms of ADD can help the family member function more appropriately and thus increase the harmony in the family.  As the family functions in a healthier manner, so will the other arenas in the life of the family.


The copyright of the article Living with ADD:  The Impact of ADD on the Family is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

Delayne and her short-attention span sister Emily