ADD Impacts the Whole Family

ADD (or ADHD or ADD/H) is a neurological condition.  This article discusses how it can impact children, adults, and the whole family.

ADD children constantly live with pain disappointment, and rejection. They live in bewilderment about the negative effect they have on peers, siblings, parents, and others. They also suffer from their inability to have positive relationships with others.

Siblings of an ADD child live among confusion and chaos. They may feel embarrassed in front of their friends, and angry at the amount of attention parents must devote to their ADD brother or sister.

Parents may be at different levels of awareness about ADD and have different ideas for dealing with their ADD child and managing the behaviors. This may cause marital battles. Yet, whichever route they take, the ADD child’s behaviors are often still explosive or disruptive.  

Adults with ADD have grown up with the negative messages. They have incorporated a sense of failure. They may have a poor work history or are under-employed; they may have failed relationships and had problems with their bosses and co-workers, without ever understanding why.

Spouses of someone with ADD are frustrated and angry. They feel their needs always come second; they are moping up and filling in for their spouse’s failures. They feel unheard, unappreciated, and take it personally when their spouse lets them down.

For the whole family, routine events become time consuming ordeals. Predictability is rare. Family members may feel their only choices are to live with the hostile disorder or to walk on egg shells.



Being ADD myself, and having worked with many families where one or more members have this diagnosis or this undiagnosed neurological condition, I know it is possible to make life easier for everyone.

Individual Therapy: Since ADD affects the whole family, the most effective means of treatment is to help ADD children and adults understand the ways they are limited and to learn coping mechanisms. It is also important to learn the positive benefits of having ADD.

Family Therapy: The whole family needs to understand what makes life more chaotic for the people with ADD. Once they all know the specific ADD behaviors that are troublesome, they can learn ways to work around this.

Since ADD is usually hereditary, at least one child and one parent may have ADD. However, their styles and issues around it can be different. For instance, some ADD children do better with noise and activity around them while others feel more out of control with such stimulation. Some parents may be hyperactive while others appear “spacey.” Helping everyone understand each other’s styles and not personalize the difficulties is a small but very important first step. Family therapy allows everyone to express their feelings and learn how to cope with the negative – and maximize the positive – aspects of ADD.

Group Therapy: Social skills groups for children with ADD can be extremely helpful, as can groups for adults to express their frustration and to learn coping strategies. Many people with ADD are insightful about other people but are poor readers of how they affect others. Groups can help them learn how their behaviors affect others and how to be more self-correcting.

Multi-family Group Therapy is composed of 4-8 families, including all siblings and as many of the extended family members as possible. It is designed to help all family members generally understand ADD, to recognize how they are affected by it, and to learn techniques to keep ADD behaviors from being disruptive. Through the multi-group format, families feel support from others who deal with similar difficulties; they share different management strategies; and they learn to positively reframe the creative ADD attributes. The format of breaking into various subgroups (such as ADD children, ADD adults, siblings, parents, males, females) allows for maximum benefit among all participants.

If you have questions or comments or want more information, contact me at:

Dr. Karen Gail Lewis

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