blog | Jan 16, 2012 | 2 Comments

Understanding the ADHD Maturity Gap

Here at Not Wrong Just Different Headquarters (otherwise known as my living room) it is important to remind everyone that I’m not a scientist or a psychologist.   I do believe in what Oprah passed on from Dr. Maya Angelo – “When you know better, you do better.”

I’m in search of information that we can all know better and then do better.  I don’t provide the content, I provide the context.

Today’s content brought to you by Dr. Russell A. Barkley, PhD.  Dr. Barkley is the closest you’ll come to an ADHD expert.  Click the link and read his bio for a credibility report.

Dr. Barkley shares this statistic:

Emotional development in children with ADHD is 30% slower than their non-ADD peers. This means that a child that is 10 years old will have the emotional development of a 7 year old, a 20 year old will have the emotional maturity of a 14 year old.

What does this mean for our relationships with those with ADHD?

Manage your expectations.

When setting discipline and punishment, do the math in your head first.  If your child is 12 and gets into trouble, count down the 30% and ask if that was normal behavior for an 8 year old.  Then react.

When setting your boundaries, manage to the 30%.  The rest of the kids in that age group may have privileges that your child isn’t ready for.  Be careful not to “baby” or “enable”.  This also means you will need to be more purposeful and specific to teach your child how to make good choices. Do this with love, not shame or comparison.  Live by the motto, “Meet them where they are and love them forward.”

The Contradiction:

Those with ADHD are often intellectually advanced with an amazing vocabulary. When their words and intelligence are advanced and their emotional maturity behind, it is confusing.  My son was in fourth grade when I learned this statistic.  It put so many things in perspective for me.  My frustration eased and I learned to manage each of them separately, the intellect and the emotions.  I had a conversation with his teacher and she found it dead on from her experience and helpful for her teaching too.

I sometimes find it more difficult to set these expectations with the more peripheral relationships such as his peers and grandparents, others who aren’t as tuned in to the day to day or as understanding of ADHD.  Be patient but diligent and keep your perspective in check.  Your peripheral relationships are not your primary concern. This can be a tug on your heart when your own parents don’t appreciate or understand what it means to parent or be married to those with ADHD.  We’ll save a deep dive on this for another post. 🙂

Most importantly, let the person you love with ADHD feel your support.  This is a confusing gap for them too.  It is frustrating and can cause big hits to their self esteem.  Their heads say one thing, their hearts say another and they never quite seem to meet people’s expectations.  It is critical to extend your empathy.  Not sympathy, that doesn’t advance the relationship for either of you.  Empathy demands that you listen with your head and your heart.  Empathy demands that you “meet them where they are and love them forward”.  Teach them to trust and be trustworthy.  They desperately need this from you, their loving relationship mentor.




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January of 2012 this piece on ADHD and maturity was written. I am responding in October of 2013. First respone…unbleivable!
This information brought tears to my eyes for my son. Since he was very young, now 16, he has been treated for depression (has a bipolar parent), but there have always been nuances to him that were like trying to figure out a puzzle. As I am gaining understanding about executive functioning I came across a tidbit of information about delayed maturity and ADHD/ADD. While ADD/ADHD has been ruled out regarding my son, executive functioning issues have not, and there is a nerrow margin of difference between the two.
This information about 30% behind in maturity is a gift. And I am sad for my son and for myself that I did not know/understand this sooner.
Thank you!!!



Thank you for your comment, I’m so glad this was helpful! My only intent when deciding to write about ADD/ADHD was to attempt to be helpful to other parents that are struggling to know what to do and where to turn. I call my son’s upbringing, one big science fair experiment. I’m happy to report that at 15 he’s doing great! If you have the funds, I highly recommend a brain scan analysis through Dr. Amen’s clinics to exactly pinpoint the right treatment for your son. We have not been able to do this but I have reports from friends and colleagues that it made a huge difference in their treatment plans.



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