Helping Your ADHD-Inattentive Child or Teen: How Much is Too Much?

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helping with homework“You do too much! She should do it herself.”

This was the unsolicited advice our 19-year-old daughter gave me when she found out that her 16-year-old sister Lesley continued to ask for my editing help for an English essay.

I immediately replied: “She still has ADHD-I, you know. That’s not changed.”

Olivia was adamant: I helped too much. At the same time, I felt strongly that Lesley needed the help. My older daughter is majoring in English at her university, and any sort of writing project continues to be her strength. Meanwhile, Lesley’s taking her first Advanced Placement English class as a high school junior and could use a little tutoring to meet the challenge.

Her papers continue to shine with creativity and improved organizational skills, but she still overlooks certain elements as she writes.

For instance, she’s not a natural speller. While it’s true that every writing software program includes a spell check, nothing replaces the human eye. If she writes about something not being “aloud” when she meant “allowed”, the spell check feature completely misses the mistake.

When her text doesn’t support her thesis, I try to point that out and give her suggestions of what she might try. I’m not writing it for her; I’m coaching her to write better.

I realize that helping an ADHD-I child or teen can seem like a habit. Memories of kitchen table sessions that went too long still seem fresh. Learning multiplication tables, spelling words or seemingly random history facts – all these tasks took a bit more time for Lesley than for her sister or brother.

Memorization especially took time. We rapped, we sang, and we slogged through one way or another.

Kayla can tell similar stories about Joe who also tended to need a little more time. In high school, he had documentation in place so that he was allowed extra time on his SAT’s. (If you’re at that point, read this article about ADHD and SAT’s.)

I suppose the question is continually raised: do they get too much? Are these ADHD-inattentive types getting preferential treatment with their medicine, their extra time and all that attention??

How much is too much? How about you? What do you do to help your ADHD-I child? Have you been encouraged or reprimanded by educators or family members? What do your instincts tell you?

Kayla and I would love to hear from you. Sharing with other parents who are walking a similar pathway encourages us all.


  1. Children with attentional disorders do need extra support, but some of that support must come in the form of teaching and reinforcing strategies they can use to compensate for their areas of weakness. The goal is that they become independent, responsible adults. For example, if you find yourself constantly reminding your child of things they should be remembering on their own, help them develop a strategy they can continue to use in adulthood. Using a large white board with a “to-do” list is acceptable for an independent adult, as is using the calendar-reminder feature on a Smartphone.

    Foster independence!

  2. http://Deb%20Fein says

    Hello Brock: Your story seemed all too familiar to me. My son who is a high school senior also has ADD-I. I helped him all through school. The teachers commended me for pushing him, but at the same time, knew that I hovered. However, this was what kept him from failing many times.

    On the other hand, I always felt as if I was my son’s biggest fan. He was a bright boy, who was disorganized (and didn’t want to be organized), had some fine motor issues, and definite diffiiculty memorizing material. I did it all too from mnemonics, chants and putting things into song. Sometimes it worked, and other times not.

    When my son got to high school, there was an alternative program for him, which was not special education. It was a program for children in danger of falling through the cracks, and the class sizes were smaller. The shame was that I waited to the second half of his junior year to allow him to join that program. Some of the homework expectations are less, but he is thriving. The best thing about the alternative program is I was able to back off finally with the homework. We have hopes of him going to college.

    • Hi Deb,

      Thank you for writing. It’s such a fine line between excessive hovering and pushing just enough. I think you’ve found a good combination. Your son is very fortunate to have you cheering him on and helping him every step of the way. I want to tell you that your instincts are better than you realize. Changing homework expectations somewhat has proved to be an excellent accommodation for him. His story is an encouraging one — thank you so much for sharing it with us.\


  3. http://joanne says

    I am exhausted, I think girls with inattentive add are 5 times more clear and organized as boys. I am spending more than 4 hours a day..and believe me, it’s truly needed, helping my son catch up and stay caught up in his private, highly academic, college prep high school. The school has more work as a sophomore in high school than my son does as a junior in joke! My son, with inattentive add is truly so smart, bordering on brilliant, but to truly show it I am like a slave w no life of my own with my husband. He would truly Fail without my help he is a total airhead/ complete mess getting F’s without Me as his help. Believe me, I have interviewed many ..out ads up everywhere..even at local universities…hired great after the other they burnt out thinking my son was “lazy and needs more disapline”…telling me w a joke of inexperience how to ues this method to force him to do his reading, his writing homework. School confedence after conference, even though teachers were supposedly informed of my son’s accomodation plan..after 9 years of this..not only with this sin but my other son as well…teachers either never read and knew of the accomodation plans, denied them so I would have to fight factually to prove my case for giving my sons an extension..or simply implied that my sons were lazy and that I am a bad/lazy parent that needs to learn better disipline skills. I know some words are misspelled her..but in truth, I don’t care because I am so tired..barely slept and spent 6 hours..just done helping my son try to catch up on all the tons of homework he is behind on..PLease someone out there…tell me, for once, instead of all the rosy bullst…does someone out there understand this from your own experience? PLEASE TELL ME HOW YOU MAKE IT FROM DAY TO DAY…HELP ME PLEASE I AM SOOOO DESPERATE!!!!!!!

    • I DO understand. I have so been there. There are no rose colored glasses. It’s hard work, exhausting, and if you don’t have the teacher’s support it is even worse. I remember staying up until 3 in the morning, trying to prop my eyes open, encouraging, prodding, nagging…whatever…a son to ‘write the next sentence’ on a paper or a project. Then having to type it (and the printer would stop working invariably).

      However, coming out the other side, it is worth it, and all that you have plowed into your sons will take root and grow. All three of our sons have proven this to be true.

      But those years of middle and high school were difficult.

      Be encouraged that there is an end. And keep us posted.

    • http://Julie says

      I can totally relate to your experience. All 3 of my kids have ADHD, two combined type and one inattentive type. It IS exhausting. I started off by doing too much for them, then moved to hovering, then at one point with my oldest just let him sink or swim. Now they are all teenagers and I don’t feel they have made any progress after the years of work I put in. I have learned the hard way that I have to teach them to be independent themselves and put strategies in place to help them manage their own lives instead of managing their lives for them. The problem is they have no interest in using the strategies and continue to make excuses for themselves. “It’s not my fault, I forgot” is a sentence I hear all too often, but they don’t want to hear suggestions as to how to remember next time. My 18 yr old is thinking of getting a part time job, but he can’t even remember to take his meds or shower! I switch between just letting go of what I can’t control and worrying about their futures.

  4. http://Lassie says

    I hear Joanne echoing my sentiments, and I would encourage her to rethink the whole demanding private school choice. We are having enough trouble just with public school demands, as my son as a sophomore has ground to a halt with homework, having lost the motivation to stay up as long as it takes him to finish (much longer than others). I work full time with an hour commute and my husband, who moved out this year at my request, is more trouble than my son with similar mental challenges and emotional issues as well. It bothers me to see him choosing not to take AP classes next year when I know he is smart enough. I can’t be there when he gets home so a special ed teacher sees him after school to help him organize his work, but I pay $35/hour and spent a lot on tutors this quarter to help my son complete missed homework. I keep asking myself when this will end, and it is sad I can’t enjoy the time with my son without this headache. He is on Adderall and has started Lexapro to see if it will help with his social anxiety.