Can People with ADHD Be Lazy?


ADHD or Lazy?

Is it possible for people with ADHD to also be lazy – or are these terms mutually exclusive? In my own experience of working with nearly 5,000 kids over 35 years of practice, I find it is very possible to have both conditions, although ADHD is the only term listed in the diagnostic manual. 

Here are two ways to answer the question for yourself about you or another individual who has ADHD. 

1.       It’s important to know whether someone is industrious or lazy by nature.

Taking myself as an example, I have ADHD, Inattentive Type.  Yet despite this condition, I always worked hard and consistently throughout my school years and continue to into the present day.  As a young person, I wouldn’t dream of putting anything else before my homework. Now, my work or other responsibilities I take on come first.   But that’s not how it is for everyone. For some kids (even kids with ADHD), being “lazy” means they choose not to apply themselves.

  • Are we too afraid to use the term?  When I started working with ADHD kids, I was conflicted about using the term ADHD when I knew full well that my client viewed doing homework as something beneath him or her and unworthy of attention. On the other hand, we have been so sensitized to using diagnostic labels to describe difficulties of childhood that it is almost taboo to use the old street labels we once used to use – like “lazy”. 
  • Call an apple an apple: Since those early days, I have since solidified my view that some children are truly “not invested in doing their school work or anything else their parents request of them”.  When I put this in my diagnostic reports, everyone understands it to be a fancy way of saying “lazy” and they can see what it means when they visualize the child in their mind’s eye. 

Know when your kid is having trouble accomplishing a task
and when he or she is simply being lazy. 

To do this:  you may need some help from a professional to help determine what challenges your child is facing because of his or her ADHD.  Ultimately, you don’t want to let lazy kids get away with not applying themselves just because they have ADHD.

2. Postpone medication until you can determine someone’s un-medicated behavior. 

Should there be a push to medicate, I strongly recommend to parents and the referring physician to NOT prescribe any medication until there is ample proof from school and home that the child has been working hard and steadily for the past three weeks.  Here’s why it’s important to wait:

  • Medicine isn’t magic.  Many families seek medication as the primary form of treatment with the hope that their children will become more responsible, work harder on their homework and become more respectful.  That’s pretty wishful thinking as there isn’t a single research study that has ever proven that to be true.
  • Medicine alone doesn’t work.  Some time ago, I was treating a young girl with ADHD. She had a habit of swearing and cursing her parents endlessly when she was frustrated.  Her father, who was a psychiatrist, suggested all he needed to do was prescribe a stimulant. I told the father that with medication alone, his daughter would continue to curse – but would probably do it with greater focus, clarity and articulation.  He got the point. Therapy continued to a successful outcome with his daughter. And today, she is a successful adult enjoying a close relationship with her parents.  In treating ADHD it is critical to remember:

Medication alone will not address all of the
behavioral issues plaguing children and families.


What’s it take to know if your ADHD child is being lazy?

Successful treatment of “lazy” children with ADHD requires the intervention of a professional who can help the family understand which behaviors are a result of ADHD and which are part of being lazy.  It is possible to address laziness about school work but only to the extent that the child is willing to accept coaching and begin to see the value in being motivated for school work. 

  • Don’t provide refuge. Some parents spend hours with their child doing homework, when the child already knows what to do. In these scenarios, the parent is just trying to provide their child with a refuge from school underachievement and low grades.  These actions only forestall the inevitable failure that the child needs to experience in order to understand their own accountability. 

The key ingredient that LAZY children lack is a sense of accountability.

  • Hold them accountable. Sometimes, failure is a necessary step for future growth and success.  How are they going to learn the concept of accountability if they are continually protected from honest feedback about themselves from society – in this case, school?   We have an entire legal/judicial system based on individuals being accountable for our actions.  In fact there have been a few legal cases where the defending attorney considered using ADHD as a defense. Fortunately, they reconsidered that ploy when they got feedback from the judge.

What have we learned?

  • You can use the term “lazy” in addition to ADHD.
  • Realize it requires a different form of intervention than ADHD does.
  • Even when kids have ADHD, they are still accountable for everything – just like everyone else.
  • Never allow stimulant medication while a child with ADHD is still unaccountable.
  • Consult with a professional in addressing this sticky wicket.

Contact me.  I’ll help you decipher you or your child’s behavior.  


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