Imagine this picture. An 11-year-old student retreats to his room to do homework after supper. At 11 p.m. you knock and enter and find him surrounded by crumpled papers, broken pencils and in a sobbing heap. The child has attention deficit disorder (ADD), also called ADHD, and this is what hours of homework has led to.

While most people might not associate perfectionism with ADD/ADHD, the reality is that extreme meticulousness can be a one manifestation of the conditions. A child with attention deficit, when confronted with a challenging bit of homework, sees a dense forest. He or she can’t see a path through the trees to completion. Anxiety and perhaps depression strikes.

You can do something to help

The possible cause of this situation may be a shortcoming in executive functioning skills related to ADD/ADHD. And it’s important to be aware that a diagnosis of ADD or ADHD may qualify a child for support benefits under federal law. And advocating for your child may become necessary to obtain individualized services through your school.

Of course, you as a parent can contribute to your child’s achievement by how you support him or her at home. This applies whether the behavior on display is the inability to focus, or one of hyper focus on perfection. In the latter situation, here are thoughts from some experts on ways parents can help:

  • Be selective in how you encourage: The phrase “just do your best” is commonly heard, but with a perfectionistic ADD/ADHD child, striving for “best” is the problem. Don’t be afraid to step in and cut some slack if your child is going down the perfection rabbit hole on a task.
  • Provide a balanced perspective: Leonardo da Vinci’s come along only rarely, but education’s focus on doing better than average suggests it should happen more often. Not everyone is an artist or math whiz, and they don’t have to be. You can help a perfectionist child know when efforts made are good enough.
  • Be an advocate at school: Coordinate with your child’s teachers to identify issues and set expectations so that support is the same at school and at home.

Educators acknowledge that no one model of teaching works for every person. By finding out possible causes when issues arise, you can do more to help find what works best for your child and, if necessary, press for benefits that the law calls for.