ADHD 'drives parents to divorce'

Couples who have a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are nearly twice as likely to divorce or separate as couples who do not, according to research published in the Journal of Consulting and Psychology. The news is not entirely surprising, given that couples tend to split up these days under lesser pressures than a seriously difficult child. What is perhaps surprising is that this is the first study to explore the question explicitly.

Psychologists Brian Wymbs and William Pelham set up a longitudinal study in which they tracked a large number of families with and without children diagnosed with ADHD, a disorder characterised by inattention and hyperactivity and often accompanied by conduct problems and oppositional behaviour (defiance?). While 12.6 per cent of the parents of children without ADHD were divorced by the time the children were eight years old, the figure was 22.7 per cent for parents of kids with the disorder. Those couples also tended to reach the point of divorce or separation faster.

Dr Pelham, who has studied previously how kids can drive their parents to drink, draws from this the lesson that kids can be “really stressful” -- enough to drive their parents apart -- and that “ADHD should not be treated without involving the parents in the treatment”.

A separate laboratory study simulating parental reactions to ADHD behaviour showed that parents working with difficult children were four times as likely to exchange negative criticism and questions with each other, or to ignore each other and trade nonverbal barbs, than parents dealing with co-operative kids.

Since ADHD drugs are stimulants it is not advisable to administer them late in the day, so they are not much help to parents in the after-school period. One expert says parents need to “get on the same page” and follow three simple rules: pare down their expectations and focus on one or two problems behaviours in their child; reward all positive behaviour and discourage negative -- often by ignoring it; stick with whatever technique they are using long enough to see it work. And “take care of themselves”.

Exactly how they do that is presumably the key to building the relationship strength to remain united in a very demanding situation. Perhaps united and calm parents would have a beneficial effect on the child even before they do anything else. ~ Washington Post, March 3



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