For another week, we have Sarah Templeton from Headstuff ADHD Therapy helping us with some of the ADHD related dilemmas we may encounter. Today we are exploring ADHD and Crime, in the wake of the City of London police screening all suspects for ADHD. It is possible that your child may come into contact with the law, and Sarah has some sound advice on what to do, should this happen to you.
This is always the scariest thing that can happen to parents of ADHD children. I’ve worked with numerous families, the vast majority of whom very law-abiding professional people, who are absolutely horrified when their ADHD teenager breaks the law and they find two police officers standing on their doorstep.
If this happens to you, firstly understand you are not alone.
This is very probably happening to another teenager in your son or daughter’s school right now, and most certainly to another family in your town.
8 reasons ADHD and crime are significant bed fellows
It is incredibly common for ADHD kids, especially boys but also girls, to have scrapes with the law from quite a young age. When we look at some of the ADHD traits, it’s really not hard to understand the reasons why:
1. Risk take and thrill seeking
These are part of an ADHD brain’s way of thinking. This trait alone leads kids down the lawbreaking path. Breaking into building sites and climbing up the scaffolding is just too exciting to resist for most ADHD boys.
2. Don’t tell me what to do
ADHD brains do not like being told what to do, they always think they know best and want everything their own way.
3. Boundary issues
ADHD brains like pushing boundaries. They are not bothered by rules or restrictions and pushing boundaries gives their brain the adrenaline shot it is constantly looking for.
ADHD brains are impulsive and do not think of the consequences. The amount of boys I have worked with in prisons who have told me they did not give one thought to the consequence of their often minor criminal action.
ADHD kids are impatient. If they want something they want it NOW. They don’t want to save up money from Christmas and birthday presents. If their brain has decided it needs new trainers, it needs them today. This can so often lead to pilfering from a very young age. I’ve known of ADHD toddlers pinching things off supermarket shelves and having it safely hidden in their pushchair, without their mothers knowledge,
6. Emotional dysregulation
This can lead to ADHD kids losing their temper, kicking or punching anything or anyone. Teenagers being arrested for ‘affray’ for shouting in the streets or ‘criminal damage’ having kicked a shop window is extremely common,
Hyperactivity, restlessness and always needing to be doing something can easily turn into something mildly criminal
8. Sense of justice
Believe it or not, I’ve met many teenagers where their ADHD heightened sense of justice has seen them land in trouble with the police. One teenager, for example, was outraged how his ex-girlfriend was being treated by her new abusive partner and was arrested for ‘threats to kill’.
When you read all this, is it any wonder ADHD kids find themselves in trouble more than any other? I often wonder how I have managed to swerve getting into trouble with the law so really don’t be surprised if it happens to your teenager. The only important thing is what you do about it.
What to do if it happens to your child
Firstly, as shocked and horrified as you might be and frightened for your child’s future, always make absolutely sure they know you are on their side. This is imperative. If they feel they are battling you and you don’t approve of what they are doing, they are just going to carry on – and they will find themselves in even more trouble.
If they know that you are on their side, not judging them, understanding that this is part of their ADHD and together you will decide how you manage the situation – you are guaranteed to have a much better outcome.
My strong recommendation would be you handle the situation by initially sitting down with your child when they are in the right frame of mind. This won’t be when they are hungry, have just walked in the door from school or are in any sort of grouchy mood. But when they are chatting to you and open to communication, start off by letting them know you are completely on their side with this, you understand what they have been getting up to is most definitely linked to the way their wonderful ADHD brain works and, collaboratively, you need to come up with a plan to keep them safe and most importantly to them – to keep all their options open.
They won’t have thought of the consequences longer term
I absolutely know your child will not have thought their actions could limit their career choices. Alongside this, they can also limit where they can travel to. Do your research before speaking to them. Make sure you have your facts correct about which choices will be reduced should they be convicted of a crime.
I worked with one teenager who was devastated he couldn’t go to America with his family. This was for their usual annual summer holiday, and it happened because he had been arrested.
Another teenager was horrified the caution on his DBS stopped him going to his choice of University to be a paramedic.
ADHD stops kids thinking about the longer term consequences
I can 100% guarantee your child will not have thought about the consequences of their actions. They might think it’s quite ‘cool to be a gangster’. However, they won’t think it’s cool people will be telling them they can’t go to America or join the army. It is critical you get your facts right though. Trust me, they will be googling as soon as they finish talking to you. If what you’ve told them isn’t true, they will gleefully tell you how wrong you are.
Most teenagers, if understood and not judged, will realise the consequences of their criminal actions. These consequences will be worth changing their behaviour for. A very small percentage won’t listen to a word you say. This group will be hellbent on carrying on their very exciting lawbreaking activities. For these feisty teenagers, book them in with an ADHD Coach. This coach need to have experience of working with young offenders. These young people also need to hear what the criminal justice system has lined up for them if they carry on breaking the law.
Don’t underestimate the power of reduced choice for young people
I have read letters from ADHD boys in prison. These are young teenage clients who have been absolutely horrified to hear what life is really like behind bars. It might only take a few sessions for them to realise they don’t like having life choices taken away from them. And all for the sake of a pair of trainers, really isn’t how they want their life to be.
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