Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition. Children with ADHD display issues with attention and executive function, finding difficulty maintaining focus, inhibiting their impulses, managing tasks, and more.
Parents of children with ADHD and their caretakers know that raising a child with ADHD can take some extra work. They are frequently wonderful kids with incredible personalities, but their ADHD does cause them to struggle to stay on task. That means more reminders, more oversight, more addressing disruption, and so on. It can be fulfilling, because you love your child, but it can also be draining.
What many parents and caregivers do not realize, however, is that it is not only draining for the person watching over the child with ADHD. It can also be immensely draining for the child themselves – so much so that the child may have trouble with an issue known as “ADHD burnout.”
What is ADHD Burnout?
One thing many people without ADHD often do not realize is how mentally draining it is to struggle with the condition. Imagine how mentally (and physically) tired you would be if you:
- Were frequently jumping from thought to thought, topic to topic, attention to attention.
- Were being reprimanded or corrected often.
- Had to put in considerable mental effort to focus on a difficult task.
- Needed to think extra hard to solve problems, complete tasks, or manage time.
It is easy to envision how this would be exhausting for anyone, neurotypical or neuroatypical. All of us experience burnout when our thoughts and emotions are constantly overwhelmed. Children – a group that already is learning to manage emotions and energy, and a group that is known to “crash” when they’ve learned too much during the day – experience burnout constantly.
So, it is easy to envision how a child with ADHD can especially struggle with burnout when they are tasked with mentally handling more than their developing minds are able to handle. ADHD burnout becomes not only common, but a potentially daily issue.
What Happens with a Child is Burnt Out?
ADHD Burnout leads to the same issues that we all experience when we have burnout. We feel overwhelmed, and we feel tired. For children with ADHD, however, this can lead to something more:
- Constant Burnout – It can be easier for neurotypical children to overcome this issue with a good night’s sleep and a bit of quiet time. But those with ADHD may not be able to get that, which means the burnout (feelings of being overwhelmed or tired) may not easily end.
- Exacerbated Symptoms – It’s already hard enough to focus and sit still when you’re overwhelmed. It can be even more difficult for some children when they have ADHD burnout. This means that a child may have worsening symptoms when they struggle with this burnout.
- Potential Additional Stressors – A child that has ADHD burnout while at school, for example, may be more likely to get in trouble with the teacher or struggle harder to make friends, which in turn adds additional stress and, potentially, more burnout.
Burnout can also increase feelings of despair, and other negative emotions that may contribute to worsening mental health symptoms.
There is an argument to be made that ADHD burnout should and could be considered a major symptom of ADHD, due to the way that it can disrupt a person’s life. While we often see people focus on the behavioral and attention issues related to ADHD, burnout can also have a significant impact. We should expect that many children with ADHD are going to struggle with tiredness because of the way these symptoms drain them.
What Can Be Done About ADHD Burnout?
ADHD burnout may be directly related to a child’s ADHD, but many of the symptoms can be managed in ways that help neurotypical children as well. The difference is that it has to be a more constant presence in the child’s life. Examples of ways to reduce ADHD burnout include:
- Structure and Sleep Schedule – Burnout can make children with ADHD tired, and they’re going to need this sleep. Stricter structure can make it a bit easier to give your child a sense of control and safety, and make it easier for them to have a consistent sleep schedule to help them rest and refresh.
- True Quiet Time – For many neurotypical adults, quiet time is time with a book or browsing our phones. Those activities may be less relaxing for a child with ADHD. Instead, consider quiet meditation time in silence, or time spent sitting outdoors with no other stimuli. That provides some necessary relaxation.
- Exercise – It may seem counterintuitive for someone with fatigue to exercise, but regular physical activity can reduce stress and anxiety, and provide neurotransmitters that boost mood. This should help reduce feelings of burnout.
- Breaks – Burnout can happen when a child with ADHD is tasked with focusing heavily on one activity (or multiple mentally draining activities in sequence) for an extended period of time. Giving these children breaks to refresh and recharge can be a tremendous help.
These examples are not much different from the activities that most of us would do if we were overwhelmed and experiencing burnout. But we do not typically experience burnout on a regular basis, and so we can usually address burnout as it arises. But for children with ADHD, it is better to make it a standard part of parenting and education, to reduce the frequency of burnout and – as a result – possibly even slightly decrease some ADHD symptoms and make sure that your child is in a better position to thrive.