Like the vast majority of parents you never taught your child to tell fibs, lie, and heaven forbid, steal. But now it becomes clear to you that your child is doing these things.
You try hard not to believe what you are hearing and seeing. Your imagination goes into overdrive, imagining all these terrible things, he becomes a gangster, on the verge spending his life behind bars, and you are ostracised by your family and friends, it’s simply too much to bear.
Slow down and let’s get a proper perspective on this.
Firstly, I want to be clear about one thing; lying and stealing are not acceptable, and should not be condoned. Now let’s get an ADHD perspective on this.
The acts of telling fibs or untruths, or taking something that does not belong to you demands that there is intent. In other words it is a deliberate act. In an extreme, but valid, example, Oscar Pistorius was found guilty of culpable homicide which is the unintentional killing of another person. Murder is intentional killing. A person is still dead, but the issue is whether it was intentional or not.
Relating this back to lying and stealing when it comes to ADHD helps us to understand the difference.
If you listen to the audio clip on our website called the sound of an ADHD brain, (it will open in a new window) you will hear clearly that there are gaps in what we hear.
This means that we often make up what we think we heard, or what we think would have been said. At the end of the day we are “creating” something that we believe was said - a lie is something that is made up knowing that it is not true.
It is a little known fact that most of the activity in the ADHD brain is in the occipital lobe, which is where we think in pictures, this is where we “make movies.” Movies of course, are fiction, a creation, even if they are triggered by things that have happened.
What we “see” in the occipital lobe is very vivid, to the point of it seeming to be real - an alternative reality if you wish. Now couple this wonderful ability to create “alternative realities” to low self esteem and impulsivity, and you have a very fertile breeding ground for lying and telling of untruths.
After years of working with ADDers, and having the condition myself, I have absolutely zero doubt that there is seldom intention to deliberately tell lies.
There is intention to earn approval, even praise from others, to boost our standing in the eyes of others. Of course this is risky behaviour in so many different ways. Once a lie is told, more lies are required to hide the original one. The abject humiliation of being found out is a dreadful pressure.
Stealing is slightly different. Taking something without thinking is just an ADHD trait. It is incomprehensible to others that we can do this. Obviously I am talking about small things that can be picked up easily.
I remember one evening having a visited a client and came out and got into a car identical to mine, except it wasn’t mine. When the key wouldn’t turn, I looked down and saw it was an automatic model, which mine wasn’t.
I leapt out of the car feeling so stupid, and then wandered around looking for where I had parked my car. I kept thinking - if I had been caught - how could I tell the truth that I wasn’t trying to steal the car - and be believed, especially since I didn’t seem to remember where my car was parked!
The important point is that impulsivity is by its very nature involuntary and unthinking, and low self esteem is an incredibly powerful force that should not be underestimated. Together they can cause serious damage to a life.
Before you punish the child, first check that that the lie or theft was intentional or not. It could save your child from much humiliation, and even jail later on.
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