How Do I Know If My Child Has Simple or Complex ADHD?

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This is one of the million dollar questions of ADHD. We aren’t doctors and we won’t play them on this blog, but we will gently point out that the odds are that your child is more likely rather than less likely to have something else going on.  And we would also want you to know that that’s not the end of the world, even though we know it might feel like that.  Accurate diagnoses lead to effective treatment, which leads to better lives for all of us!

Accurate diagnoses lead to effective treatment,

which leads to better lives for all of us!

There are many professionals who might have diagnosed your child’s ADHD–neurologist, developmental pediatrician, licensed psychologist, child psychiatrist, and sometimes even the pediatrician.  Through a lot of trial and error, we’ve learned that asking questions proactively is so critically important!  We can’t say it enough!!!  Do not wait, dear friends, take these questions to whoever is treating your child:

  • I realize that more than half of kids with ADHD end up being identified as having another diagnosis.  What else should I do to ensure that my child has had a comprehensive evaluation?  
  • In treating my child, what do you see that looks like something other than ADHD?
  • What does anxiety and/or depression look like in children who have ADHD?
  • How can you tell the difference between a learning disability and uncontrolled ADHD?

These are great starting points to create a dialog that widens your scope of understanding.  And as we at Two Moms and ADHD always say – TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS!  Is there something you’ve noticed time and again but your query gets put off?

Hi it’s Ali chiming in here – this is a topic I hold near and dear and I’m so glad Norrine has brought this up.  For at least six years I asked about certain behaviors I was noticing that didn’t seem to be typical ADHD.  I kept asking myself “Is this really ADHD? Why are meds making things worse?”  I was continually put off until one day a new doctor looked over my notes and immediately said “I see your son’s primary diagnosis as anxiety not ADHD.”  It was a gift to finally gain this understanding but also really heartbreaking to realize all that a proper diagnosis could have saved us from for so long.  

What have been the most helpful questions to ask on your journey?  What’s been your best source of answers?  We’d love to know what you have to say on this topic.

What is Complex ADHD?

This week we are talking about what we mean when we say “complex ADHD.”  It’s easy to understand, even for us sleep-deprived parents.  Simple ADHD is when your child has ADHD but not another related diagnosis.  Complex ADHD is when your child has ADHD and another related diagnosis.  Here at “Two Moms and ADHD,” we call that ADHD+.

Approximately 6 of 10 kids diagnosed with ADHD will also have a diagnosis of one or more of the following:

  • learning disabilities
  • language disorders
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • autism
  • sleep disorders
  • Tourette’s and tic disorders

When your child has Complex ADHD or ADHD+, that means they have ADHD and one or more of the above conditions.  This can complicate getting a clear and complete diagnosis.  It can prolong finding a med regimen that works.  It can make your child feel like a mystery to you for a long while because they don’t fit neatly in a category.  

What we’ve learned on our journeys raising ADHD+ers is this handful of simple truths: Remember that you know your child best, even when things feel unclear.  Listen to your heart as you consider answers.  But most of all, listen to your child.  Make sure they feel heard, loved, accepted and cherished.  Building a strong bond with your child should always be the priority – it will be what serves as their springboard for life.

How To Best Support the Parents of ADHDers In Your Life

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ADHD can deeply affect relationships with family and friends.  But when handled with care, it’s an opportunity to make something beautiful.

Here are some reflections from Two Moms for family and friends of parents of ADHDers…

  1. Take it upon yourself to EDUCATE YOURSELF.  If your grandchild, niece, nephew, best friend’s child has ADHD, ask your son or daughter, “What books or websites do you recommend so that I can better understand?”  We’ve got some terrific resources on our website if you don’t have a favorite reference yet.  And tell them to follow Two Moms and ADHD – on our website or social media –  because we have a lot of truth to tell!
  1. LISTEN.  “What parts of your parenting experience do I seem to not get yet?  What should I know about your child?  And listen more.  Don’t interject or reframe or judge.  As my old Roomie says, “No judgment here!”  It’s vitally important that you put aside preconceived ideas or other people you’ve known and seek to understand this child.  Start with a blank slate and listen to our experiences and hard-won truths.  We have had a hard enough time figuring them out, we don’t need to hear about Mason or Max or Madylyn.  We need you to see us and hear us.  
  1. ASK WHAT WOULD BE SUPPORTIVE OR HELPFUL.  “I’m not sure how best to help you but I have Saturday free. Can I take the kids, come over and do laundry, take you for drinks, or something else?  Please tell me what would be best for you!”  Let that parent know you can be relied on to help in a way that truly relieves stress. (Hint: Don’t just show up with dishes and dishes of food!  Our kids’ “picky” eating is a real thing.) 
  1. KEEP SHOWING UP.  Just show up.  

Family Dynamics and ADHD: CHOSEN FAMILY

One of life’s beautiful gifts is the special people that become like family to us. They genuinely care and show up in our lives in meaningful ways. They can be counted on time and again. They’re our people. They become family.

As we parent our ADHDers, chosen family may become a huge part of our lives. They may be people with an ADHDer that becomes a best friend to ours and a fixture in our living room and our lives. Or they may be someone that becomes a lifeline for us – supporting and journeying alongside us no matter what. These are the folks that keep showing up to lift us up.

Norrine’s Chosen Family: Small but Mighty 

This is an area where I feel very fortunate. I have two amazing women in my life who have supported me on every step of the journey. One is my college roommate–let’s call her Roomie.  I’ll never forget when I was pregnant with the first pregnancy, a complicated IVF pregnancy that resulted in triplets, I was in agony over certain health care decisions and trying to figure out what was best for the babies.  Roomie said to me, “You’re already a mom, you are making the right decisions.”  Her absolute confidence in me and lack of judgment or unsolicited advice has been a constant in my tumultuous journey.

The second amazing woman in my life is the mom of the daughter’s BFF–for obvious reasons, let’s call her BFFmom. She is constantly telling me, “You do such a good job with those kids. You’re such an amazing mom.” Hearing that from someone who I know is also an amazing mom and knows the good, the bad, and the ugly at our house makes me feel seen and loved.

Ali’s Chosen Family: A One-Person Army

It was six years ago that my ADHDer became part of a wonderful specialized school community where I met Norrine, the other mom of Two Moms and ADHD. She immediately reached out to me with a genuine concern for helping my son succeed in school. For those two years leading up to his launch into high school, she was a reliable and generous resource for us that grew me light years in understanding my son. She cheered us on in every way.

During the last three years of high school Norrine has become a touchstone for me personally. It’s like she instinctively knew when I was at my lowest lows, wondering if my son could even do one more day of school. Her calls, her texts and her listening gave me a glimmer of light in really dark times. But she also swung into action on my behalf more times than I can count. She’d help me think of logical next steps, she made calls to doctors and specialists on our behalf. She personally led me out of the dark in incredibly generous and selfless ways I can never repay. She knew when I couldn’t get back up so she propped me up. And she continues to show up. What an incredible gift she is in my life!

We aren’t meant to do life alone. And sometimes we’re lucky to get to do life with people that don’t have to be there but they want to be there. They show up time and time again making the difference and together making some of life’s best chapters. What’s the story of the chosen family in your life? Who’s a fixture in your story that has made all the difference? We’d love to hear your story.

Family Dynamics and ADHD: EXTENDED FAMILY

Having extended family can be a lifesaver.  Nothing negates the blessing of extra helping hands and hearts to make a difference for you and your kid.  Unless you count them second guessing the use of meds or questioning the very existence of ADHD .

Maybe you’ve learned to navigate these minefields. Or maybe you don’t have extended family available – which in turn means you don’t have folks looking to weigh in one way or another.   Either scenario has some definite pluses and minuses.  And like everything on the ADHD journey, you learn to figure it out, adjust and find your own way.

Norrine’s Extended Family: Someone Who Understands

My husband and I both come from large families, with lots of siblings. Historically, he’s been closer to his family than I have been to mine, but time and distance and finances and family dynamics and special needs parenting has taken its toll and we rarely see either side. 

One person I have been especially thankful for is my SIL, whose dear friend has a son with Asperger’s, which helped my SIL have an idea of what we deal with.  This has helped her be able to accomodate us for visits. Her constant invitations for holidays, her willingness to turn her cherished family rituals upside down to accommodate our son’s sensory issues, and her sheer delight at seeing my husband and kids is a bright spot in an often bleak extended family landscape.

Ali’s Extended Family: It’s Not Always Easy, But It’s A Gift

Being Puerto Rican means family is everything and there is plenty of it.  I have twenty six first cousins – some of which are brothers and sisters to me in every sense of the word.  My aunts and uncles are like second sets of parents and my own parents and brother are involved in our lives in meaningful ways.  This means our children have loads of people to love them. Yeah!!  This also means we have loads of opinions, questions, debate and negating of the realities of raising an ADHD+er. Boo!!

Our boys have grown up alongside many of my cousin’s children and they share deep friendships. My cousins have been right there from births to high school graduations and every milestone in between.  They cheer my kids on and make them a priority.  Also, my ADHDer especially loves time with my parents and often spends the weekend with them.  He takes care of all their IT needs and they make sure he feels important and appreciated.  These relationships make my kids feel valued and loved.  What an amazing PLUS!

The flip side is, it’s been a process to educate my family on the realities of ADHD.  For instance, my mother still asks how my ADHDer is doing only to answer herself with: “He seems much better now.  I think he’s doing great.”  There’s a certain implication that ADHD is a curable cold.  And it’s hard to be understood.  My cousin accused me of worrying about nothing when I confided about my son’s anxiety. This was after sharing about his daily panic attacks (which thankfully aren’t happening anymore).  I felt unheard and dismissed. What an overwhelming MINUS!

Like we’ve said before here at Two Moms and ADHD, raising ADHD+ers can be VERY isolating because it’s hard for people to understand if they’re not walking this road! But here’s a caveat:  for special people who are a part of your lives it’s worth the effort to continue to share and pull them into the weeds of your life long enough to build understanding.  They may never fully get it, but they likely have a desire to support you and that helps everyone involved.  

Everyone has different family dynamics.  Whatever they may be, look for the pluses – they matter.  For those of you with little or no extended family, please check out tomorrow’s post about CHOSEN FAMILY.  You know – those extraordinary friends who become cherished family.

Do you have extended family that plays a central role in your lives?  Tell us what you find to be the pitfalls or benefits?

Family Dynamics & ADHD: MARRIAGE

Family life with ADHDers can throw in a lot of the unexpected, unplanned and definitely some unwanted dynamics. It can add strain and stress. But, by default, it can also build enormous STRENGTH. Let’s face it – the more you work something out, although it brings pain, strength usually follows.

Today on Two Moms and ADHD we are sharing our marriage journeys in light of adding ADHD children. And whether you’re parenting as part of a marriage, in a relationship or solo, there are plenty of good reminders that sticking with it is the name of the game.

Norrine’s marriage: Forged into Gold by Loss

My husband and I actually married with no intentions of having children.  We were DINK, living in NYC and having the time of our lives.  It was a good life and we were happy.

Fast forward ten years and we’ve moved across the country to a place that still doesn’t feel like home.  We’ve decided to start a family and ended up needing assisted reproduction. We experienced the loss of our first pregnancy, a complicated multiples pregnancy.  We’ve had our hearts broken in the pregnancy process and become absolutely certain we wanted to have a family.  

Fast forward ten more years and here we are, alone with two ADHD+ kids in the suburbs.  Man, it is hard.  It’s so hard. It’s harder than IVF. It’s harder than second trimester miscarriage. It’s harder than being laid off. It’s soul-achingly, heart-breakingly lonely and hard.  

He and I, we’ve lost most of our joie de vive, almost all of our freedom, and all of our peace of mind. We’ve gained a greater understanding of what our vows meant, of what it means to find meaning in the service of family, and how deep the bonds of true love are. 

It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it. I’m thankful for the gifts we each have that have enabled us to find the meaning in our story. We took the peaceful, easy feelings of early love, forged them through endless fires, and stayed together in love. 

Ali’s marriage: All In

I never planned on marrying young, but we all know what happens to the best laid plans! Two weeks shy of twenty three I was married and the next eight years were a volleying of hard work and hard play. We put our everything into career building and made a priority of fitting in frequent travel together. It was an exciting and fun time for us both.

Working from home after having our first child brought huge change that threw me for a bit of an identity crisis. It was the beginning of relying on and needing my husband in a way that was new to me – and us. I wasn’t used to NEEDING someone to get through the day, and little did I know this would be training ground for our future.

Walking together through getting our second son’s ADHD diagnosis, years of meds not working, receiving an anxiety diagnosis and the tumultuous, heartbreaking school and home years that made up those seven years took our marriage to many faraway places. Sometimes we were on the same page. Other times we saw things light worlds apart. There were nuances I felt with my heart and he had a wide macro lens that was always logical. There was a time when I felt blamed for over nurturing and he felt blamed for being harsh. Anyone else been there? We still struggle with this one!

Frequently feeling inadequate as a mom became the norm for me. Now I was needing someone to make it through a lot more than a day with a newborn and that was the hardest thing for me. But learning to rely on my husband and him consistently showing up for the job and putting in what it took made the difference. It strengthened our marriage in a way that never would have been without our trials. What a gift that turned out to be not just for us, but for our children.

Parenting ADHDers+ is serious, life-changing work. It is tedious and complicated. It will take the strongest partnerships and hold them to the fire. But it’s what happens in that fire that matters. We learn to navigate together through the lowest lows before enjoying the highs. There is no magical resting place – as Norrine says on her son’s best days “Well, he’ll be coming down from that soon!” We all know the downs will follow the ups. But it’s in our commitment together, regardless of the differences we each bring separately, that we’re able to persevere – not just for ourselves but for our children.

What are some difficulties your marriage has faced as your parent ADHDers? What have been your greatest victories together? What’s your biggest lesson?

Family Dynamics: SIBLINGS

One of the most exciting parts of starting a family is dreaming what it will be like.  Who will the kids look like?  What will their passions be?  Will they be each other’s best friend?  We each have hopes and expectations as we wonder about those family dynamics.  The addition of an ADHDer can change the landscape of that picture.  Two kids with ADHD can really spice things up!  Or maybe their close relationship is what brings harmony and love that set the tone in your home.

There is nothing typical about parenting – we each have a unique journey!  Today Norrine and I are sharing our own very different family scenarios in hopes of reminding you that while each family looks different, each is to be treasured.

Norrine’s Family: Atypical Kids But Really Kind of Typical Siblings

I think in some ways, I’ve been lucky with my two kids.  For one thing, I had to have them close together because I was OLD, apparently, VERY, VERY OLD.  And my IVF doctor told me I had no time to waste! 

Mine are 19 months apart and one grade apart in school. They are both complex (COMPLEX) ADHDers, which for us means anxiety, giftedness, and autism is also part of our family. One of our realities has been that sometimes even just leaving the house can be difficult and so they have spent a lot of time at home together (great preparation for the pandemic by the way!). I would say they truly are each other’s best friends. They understand each other, don’t put up with nonsense from each other, and truly support each other. 

One of the things about their relationship that touches my heart is how they look out for each other. Ali pointed out that that’s pretty typical sibling behavior in some ways. I guess that’s the story of my two kids’ sibling relationship–it’s actually pretty typical. They play together every day, share books and games, meet up on Roblox, bring gifts home for each other, and definitely have each other’s back. 

With two complex ADHDers, their relationship has certainly been one of our bright spots in our family and we realize that we are fortunate. We are incredibly thankful for this spot of good fortune among the many daily challenges. Seeing such typical family interactions between my atypical kids feeds my soul and gives me that all too rarely felt peaceful, easy feeling.

Ali’s Family: Will They Ever Be on the Same Page?

I was thrilled to be an official Boy Mom.  Our first son was structured, colored in between the lines and made parenting books mostly look like an easy “how to.”  Our second son, born three years later, was the easiest baby but had me pitching my parenting books by the time he was two.  Our family dinners now had a preschooler circling the table instead of sitting in his seat.  Later, family movie nights were a bust because he’d lose interest in the first several minutes then disappear.  He’d constantly show up places without having shoes on. This shattered our family dynamic as our older son questioned what he saw as anarchy. And he missed my calm, even-paced parenting which was dissipating fast. 

As the elementary school years unfolded, my son’s impulsivity and unique way of thinking created a growing chasm between my boys.  One treasured LEGO instructions while the other created by imagination.  One thrived on schoolwork, which melted down the other.  Official ADHD and anxiety diagnoses meant differing parameters and expectations for our boys, which gave way to resentment and record keeping.  Today, my struggling high schooler and overachieving college junior rarely find common ground.  Their vast personality differences seem to evaporate a chance for friendship and that leaves our hearts heavy as parents. Yet what makes each of them unique has been our greatest joy to watch unfold. 

ADHDers require a different type of parenting that may fly in the face of a justice-oriented, typical kid.  It sprouts bitterness, creating a rift between siblings.  It’s not what we envisioned, but this has given us many priceless opportunities to grow both of them, encouraging each to see beyond their own feelings to value others.  Maybe these are lessons they’ll need to parent their own very different kids.  It’s continually really hard work for us, but our hope is as they mature, one day they will truly become friends. It just isn’t today.

Norrine and I both have different struggles and bright spots in parenting.  We’ve found you can’t have one without the other and that’s ok.  There are no guarantees when starting a family, let alone adding in ADHD+ers.  The good stuff is where we’re meant to find fuel for chipping away at the hard places.  As we always say, we were hand picked for this job which leads us to believe our kids were also meant for each other.

What are your children’s relationships like?  How does that change your parenting experience?  We’d love to hear from you to find out what your biggest joys and challenges are.

Be The Best YOU

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It’s in the quiet moments of summer that it hits me. My brain plays a highlight reel of the stress and drama of the school year: the near expulsion, constant teacher complaints, endless advocating and daily notifications of missed or failed assignments. Nine months of non-stop cortisol pumping through my veins leaves me scratching my head in June wondering if we really survived. While this is not every ADHDer mom’s story, maybe some complex ADHDer’s moms can relate.  

For some, school is just tough. A lack of motivation, school anxiety, trouble making friends or lagging socially is hard – it’s even tougher when all are true!  Addressing these needs is an important part of parenting. But just like a nursing mother must stay healthy to feed her baby well, parents must practice self care to ensure they’re fit to parent well. It takes less effort than you’d think and once it becomes a habit you’ll wonder how you survived without it.

ASSESS HOW YOU’RE FEELING. Operating in constant stress can require burying emotions. Decompress by taking quiet moments to process your day. Acknowledge your feelings – this allows moving forward in a healthy way.  

REMEMBER WHAT FUELS YOU. Yes you!  Is it yoga? Reading? Time alone to sip a coffee?  Water cannot come from a dry well. Take time for yourself every day. It’s not a luxury – it’s a necessity. You need this to feel human!

STAY CONNECTED. Social media is an imposter. Everyone needs some face time – or at least phone time – to feel connected and engaged in life with others.

GET PERSPECTIVE. Sometimes we can get too close to the task and lose sight of the job.  Step back, look at the person your kid is becoming. Chart progress. Be in the moment and just enjoy them!

Parenting is hard. Parenting a complex ADHDer can actually alter you. Take care of yourself so you don’t lose yourself. Then you can offer your best “you” to your child.

Making Strides to Make Us Whole

Victory happened in this shower stall this morning. An actual feat of epic proportions. And the more I think about it, the more mind blowing it is to me. Norrine sent me this picture then called me first thing this morning in a hushed but excited tone: “Guess how long I took in the shower this morning?” I was trying to make out the pic before answering. “How long do you think my showers typically are?” I wasn’t quite following yet, when she began to unleash her personal showering diary for the last twelve years. Since her son was born, Norrine has taken less than three minutes in the shower EVERY SINGLE DAY. She choses one leg to shave each time. Pits alternate the leg days. But today, she took a thirteen minute shower which, in her world, equates to an eternity of soap lathering and water pelting nirvana. To top it off, she exited to absolute peace. Not a peep from her pre-teen son with a mood disorder to break her golden silence. A bit of her humanity is restored.

The last thing she said before we hung up was, “Somebody else must know what this feels like! Somebody knows!” And surely, if we all think about it, we likely have a shower story of our own. Not actual showering, but that thing we started doing way, way, back to accommodate our kid that needs a little more. That thing, which was necessary to get by at that time, that should not have become our normal -but sometimes it does. And before we know it, we instinctively take less than three minutes in the shower for twelve years.

That thing, which was necessary to get by at that time, that should not

have become our normal – but sometimes it does.

Is something already coming to mind that you would really like to take back for yourself? Something you feel is overdue in your life? I immediately made a mental list of things I’m still doing for my ADHDer that he’s able to do for himself now. This rut was created because he was easily overwhelmed and very anxious much of the time, but a new med regimen has subsided those symptoms so he’s able to take more on now. Transferring these responsibilities is going to help grow him AND free me up in a way that’s appropriate and necessary. For both of us.

If your ADHDer isn’t at a place where you can transfer some responsibilities, remember that it’s okay to ask for help. Switch things up! Have your spouse start doing the morning routine when that’s possible, or ask grandparents or friends to help with part of the afternoon activities. We aren’t meant to do or be everything for our children. The more helping hands we have, the more our children are able to learn from and the more we can see our children through different eyes. There are benefits all around.

So let’s pick one thing to start taking back for ourselves today. Maybe it’s time alone to regroup in the evening or instituting new family cleanup protocols. It’s the little things that can make a difference in making us feel whole and human. And whatever we do, let’s remember it takes less than thirteen minutes to boil an egg, so let’s give ourselves at least that much time in the shower.

Be Kind To Yourself

One thing you’d probably never imagined as being great advice for parenting an ADHDer is: BE KIND TO YOURSELF. Norrine and I actually scoff at that thought because the reality is, we never received any advice when our kids were diagnosed, let alone some on parental self care. Yet, we’ve noticed that one of this journey’s biggest pitfalls is parents running on empty and neglecting their needs.

Just as important as making sure your ADHDer continues the activities they love and receives grace and room to adjust in every stage, is allowing the same for yourself. Have you considered the road you’ve traveled? You’ve tackled challenge after challenge because helping your ADHDer can largely be trial and error. And there’s probably some lamenting and residual what ifs on your heart because there is no manual. This job can require all you have. So you tackle it – all in – with plans to resume life as usual once things are back to normal. Whenever that will be.

What have you stopped doing for yourself for lack of time or energy? Do you regularly recharge or regroup? If you can’t remember what you even find relaxing or whether you brushed your teeth today – this is probably a great time to start thinking about it. Our advice: START TODAY. Just think of one thing that would make you feel replenished. For Norrine, it’s usually spending $5 on a delicious coffee that she didn’t have to make herself and enjoying it ALONE, with extended time to sip, savor and just be. For me, it’s going for a long bike ride and enjoying something delicious and unrushed afterwards. This is going to look different for everybody, but regardless of the time you have or the chaos you may be in the middle of – IT’S POSSIBLE.

Start with what’s doable right now – be realistic and be okay with it. Let it meet you right where you are in the thick of things. Maybe it’s taking just fifteen minutes to stop and sit to read a book alone. It may not sound like much, but anything is better than nothing. And once you start this habit you’ll likely see those anythings add up to something significant. Slowly, you’ll begin to find yourself again.



It’s easy to get lost in the messiness of parenting an ADHDer. The odds are it’s going to happen at one time or another. But don’t stay there! There’s a reason you have to put your oxygen mask on first before helping the person next to you on a plane! You’re not going to be much help to others if you’re not breathing. That’s not a luxury – it’s a necessity. So is being kind to yourself.

Just for the record, we don’t have it all together in this department – but we’re working on it! I mentioned earlier this week that Norrine is on week two of a new nighttime skin care regimen after stopping TWELVE YEARS ago when her son was born. Yeah Norrine!! Her face is literally glowing after just two weeks! As for me, I’ve started taking a full hour of time daily to read, write or a little of both. It’s pure luxury and it may not be able to stay a full hour once school and schedules are back but I feel sooooo human right now!

Join us! Be kind to the only you there is. A great way to start is to share what you’ll do in the comments below – seeing it in print may be just what you need to actually start. We’re cheering you on all the way. We know you can do this!