Is the ADHD 3 Year Delay Just Hype?

Apr 14, 2021
The ADHD 3 year Delay Isn't Hype

As children grow, so will their curiosity about their struggles with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). And as they progress into the upper elementary grades, they may begin to question why and how they are "different" from their peers.


I recall a specialist telling me one time, "it will all get easier by fourth grade because your son will become more self-aware and self-adapting."

Those words kept me focused when I would get discouraged. And sure enough, by fourth grade we began to notice our son showed increased interest in his friend's opinions and reactions to his behavior. 

But, what the specialist forgot to tell us was how heartbreaking it would be when he did finally become more self-aware. The questions confused and hurt his sensitive soul. "Why do you talk so much? Why are you so weird? Why don't you go play somewhere else?"

But the most damaging action was when his peers said nothing at all and kept their distance. He began to feel extremely isolated and depressed.

And the more he tried, the more they ignored or belittled him. And frankly, to some degree, who could blame them? His actions were immature, overwhelming and at times inappropriate to the other children. 

That year was brutal. Because, more than any other time in his young life, he was becoming fully aware of his differences and didn't yet have the toolkit or the maturity to adapt.

He was frustrated and confused, and began to lose his confidence. For any parent with an ADHD child, you know how much of a slippery-slope self-confidence can be!


What is the ADHD Three Year Delay?

Research conducted by the Child Psychiatry Branch of the National Institute of Mental Health concluded that areas of an ADHD brain, involved in thinking, attention and planning, mature an average of three years later than a neurotypical brain. 

The three year delay isn't hype. It's real, and I wish I had understood it better when we our son was younger. 

Because children with ADHD are socially and emotionally lagging by approximately three years, parents need to be aware and prepared to provide the necessary support to prevent depression and self-esteem issues.


Supporting Your ADHD Child

As parents, we want to protect our children. And this is amplified when you have a child with any form of a disability or disorder. ADHD children require a tremendous amount of patience, support and letting go. It is a balancing act of providing the tools, but knowing when to step back and let them flounder a bit.

But one must be careful because this three year delay means that your child may not have the social skills and maturity to handle the issues that his or her peers are facing. Along our journey, we discovered three tools that made a significant difference in helping him find his sea legs. 


Child Psychologist / Counseling

Unless you are equipped with a solid social-emotional development toolkit yourself, we recommend seeking out a child psychologist to help provide a safe space for your child to talk, learn and grow.

We discovered that a quick chat with his therapist was invaluable! We included him extensively in the discussions of when he wanted to meet with the therapist. He learned to express when he wanted to chat and would ask us to make an appointment. Like a self-cleaning oven, he began to recognize times when he needed outside support. 


A Child's Perspective

As is developmentally normal for the upper elementary years, children begin transitioning from parental advise to the advise of their peers.

We discovered our son was far more willing to listen and learn about ADHD if presented from another child's point of view. Thus, we provided books about ADHD from a child's perspective.

Reading the books, he would excitedly say, "this kid is just like me!" And once he began connecting to their challenges, he began learning how to monitor and adjust his own behavior.



In addition, we explored a number of role-play situations at home. We would discuss a problem he was having with his peers and then present the "is it possible" and "what if" questions.

For instance, is it possible that your behavior resulted in your friend's reaction? What if you had behaved differently? 

As ADHD children are visual learners, we found that drawing scenarios was helpful. Thus, we took it to the white-board! And then we would practice: discuss, build, evaluate and practice again! Rinse and repeat. This takes time, but it is a highly-effective tool to add to your toolkit!

Our quest to role-play wasn't always met with a grateful heart. But we persisted in a calm, supportive, open-minded manner and over time he began to pose and answer the questions himself. 

Role playing is a wonderful tool as it allows a child to explore all sides of an issue, while building confidence in their ability to better handle future situations.


Do ADHD Kids Ever Bridge the Three Year Delay?

Technically, no. Just as children do not "outgrow" ADHD.

But they do learn to adapt and merge the gap. All children develop at a slightly different pace from one another, but for a child with ADHD that delay or gap is simply more significant.

But as your ADHD child matures into a young adult, the delay or gap will be far less apparent and will eventually cease to be an issue in regards to age. 

In our particular case, we continued to see marked improvements with each year. There are still bumps in the road, but as he matures so does his ability to self-correct more quickly and thus suffer less of a consequence.

Painful or not, all children must learn to adapt to their own world. This is a balancing act when you are raising a child with ADHD as you know the greater burden your child carries.

But, as we have learned, sometimes the quicker the "peer" bandaid is torn off, the less painful the lesson!


Ivy Wild Kids is passionate about helping families embrace and organize the wild of ADHD, so children can realize their full potential and families can live happier and healthier lives!

We are so excited you found us and look forward to seeing you in our community!

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