Just because it’s not the truth doesn’t mean it’s a lie.
Huh? Try that again. Let’s back up a bit.
In the course of a busy day, filled with details and information and social cues, the child with ADHD can be anticipated to:
- lose focus
- become distracted
- not hear an instruction
- not copy the full assignment before it is erased from the board
- not remember a message that didn’t seem important or relevant at the time.
When directly confronted, the child feels embarrassed, upset at being caught and ashamed to be judged as inadequate. It may seem to the child that the most expedient solution (not the best solution) is to quickly make something up, to create a plausible answer as an excuse. Is she lying to gain some advantage or reward? Not necessarily. The instinct for self-preservation is a fundamental human survival mechanism. And sometimes, impulsively making up an answer is the child’s rudimentary attempt to save face.
Peter Jaksa, Ph.D. points out that “for children with ADHD, lying is often a coping mechanism, albeit a counterproductive one. A lie may be a way to cover up forgetfulness, to avoid criticism or punishment, or to avoid dealing with feelings of guilt and shame over repeated failures.”
Uncontrolled ADHD can often masquerade as dishonesty.
Dishonesty often manifests as a coping mechanism used by children with ADHD. These are the kids who typically get in more trouble due to impulsive speech and behavior. In addition, future consequences are just not on their radar, as they exist in the world of ‘now’. They are always trying to catch up on life (missed instructions, missed assignments, missed chores, missed messages, missed next step, missed social cues).
ADHD does NOT cause lying, but lying can be part of the fall-out caused by uncontrolled ADHD.
Does any of this give permission to the ADHD child to lie? Absolutely NOT! Parents and teachers should help these children become attuned to the situations where a made-up answer is likely to erupt and together develop strategies that can help minimize the opportunity for such behavior.
Often the choice of words used by the adult sets the tone for the rest of the conversation. Consider that sometimes rephrasing the question can help ameliorate the child’s inclination to make-up a reply.
Tommy consistently does not complete homework assignments. He believes that he copies instructions correctly from the board, but in reality does not. Instead of asking (accusing) him, “Didn’t you copy the assignment?” try telling him to check what he copied. This gives him a chance to find his mistakes.
Any student, ADHD or not, may balk and lie at what may be perceived as a ‘gotcha’ moment. If you already suspect that the copied instructions were inaccurate, perhaps due to:
haste looking back and forth from board to paper
challenge shifting focus of attention,
CHADD recommends that it may be more instructive to ask, “Did you have enough time to see what was on the board?” You avoid the lie and instead get to the root of the problem.
Before branding a child as a liar, consider that one of the roots of ADHD is the disruption of executive function skills. This results in impaired organization, record keeping, and sense of time. Children with ADHD are notoriously forgetful. They also have difficulty understanding instructions, especially if these are given quickly and involve several steps. This may lead to misinterpretations.
ADDers look like everyone else. There is no physical feature to distinguish them from others not thereby impaired. As a matter of fact, ADD’ers will go out of their way to appear normal. In some cases, children might lie in an attempt to hide their symptoms. But lying does not automatically come with ADHD. On the other hand, misunderstanding, misinterpreting and forgetting, are all common traits in these children.
Not telling the truth, when confronted with a ‘gotcha moment’ is still not OK, but it is understandable. In this context, the ADHD child is NOT exhibiting signs of moral failing, nor giving evidence of a compulsive lying condition or oppositional defiant disorder. This child requires our compassion and our guidance in ways that help him or her get to the crux of the cause for the protective lie being told. We, and by that I mean parents, educators, physicians, counselors, therapists, coaches, all should hear the ‘misspeak’ as the child’s juvenile attempt to cover up the shame and embarrassment of uncontrolled ADHD symptoms.
Professionals at CHADD remind us that getting to the source of the reason the child has lied is essential. The adults who teach and nurture children with ADHD must understand that these children will frequently not perform as well as their peers and that, unless there is an additional disorder, they are neither lazy nor willfully defiant, and they are just as likely to want to succeed as their peers.
Lying is not acceptable behavior even if it is to protect the self from embarrassment or punishment. Reward honesty, it is always the best policy. When children hear an adult tell a ‘white lie’ they become confused, so be an honest role model yourself!
It is our job as caring adults to make sure that ADHD children receive the help that they need, be it therapy, medication, executive function coaching. First and foremost we should educate ourselves about the causes and symptoms of ADHD, and the fall-out that often accompanies the disorder. Start here with these links specific to the issue of dishonesty employed as a coping mechanism by ADHD children:
Two great articles by Peter Jaksa, Ph.D. http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/882.html and http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/5705.html as well as an article by Jerome J. Schultz, Ph.D. http://school.familyeducation.com/add-and-adhd/lying/42736.html?detoured=1
The National Resource Center on AD/HD can be reached at their website www.help4adhd.org This website features What We Know information sheets and additional links for resources. Parenting a Child with AD/HD (WWK2): http://www.help4adhd.org/en/living/parenting/WWK2 is a good place to begin.
Remember this is a marathon, not a race. Spend the time necessary to build your team of supporters. Share resources with others whom you feel could benefit from the knowledge. People who have “the lived experience” and professionals who work with these children understand that parenting and classroom strategies for children with ADHD are based on a different paradigm than the typical child.
Best wishes for a Happy New Year,