ADHD in Teens
By Vanessa Gonzalez
Most of us have heard of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) for the most part. ADHD is defined as a neurobehavioral disorder in which the individual has poor attention, difficulty sitting still, is disorganized, highly distractible, and difficulty managing impulsive behavior.
Most children diagnosed with ADHD in childhood will still experience it in their teens. As they grow older, their responsibilities increase and their symptoms may also improve. It’s common for teens with ADHD to have problems in school, even when they are average or above-average students. They may get bored of the class material, impulsively blurt out answers and seem they are disrupting the class, and may find it challenging to sit in class for long hours.
Teens with ADHD may also engage in risky and impulsive behaviors that can lead to serious harm. This includes reckless driving or engaging in unprotected sex practices. Therefore, it is important for teens to receive ADHD treatment to prevent symptoms from worsening.
Symptoms of ADHD
As per the DSM-5, teens will begin to show symptoms before age 12 to be diagnosed with this disorder. ADHD typically appears early in life; per the DSM-5 definition, teens should show signs before age 12 to qualify for a diagnosis. In addition, these symptoms must be present for a least six months and must negatively interfere with academic, occupational, or social functioning.
A mental health professional may diagnose your child with ADHD if they meet six or more criteria of the following:
Symptoms of inattention include:
- Not paying attention to details and making careless mistakes at work, in school, or in other activities
- Difficulty remaining focused on tasks, conversations, or play activities
- Is often easily distractible
- Does not often follow through on instructions or assignments
- Difficulty organizing tasks and activities
- Avoidance or refusal of activities that require a lot of mental attention for an extended period of time – such as tests or long papers
- Losing things frequently necessary for tasks and activities – such as for school or clubs
- Being forgetful of daily activities
- Symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity include:
- Frequent fidgeting, squirming, tapping
- Often leaving a seat when remaining seated is expected
- Feeling overly restless and needs to run about or possibly climb things
- Difficulty being still for an extended period
- Difficulty engaging in leisure activities in a quiet and calm manner
- Often talks excessively
- Blurting out answers to questions before the question has finished
- Difficulty waiting for their turn
- Intruding or interrupting others – like interrupting conversations or games
Treatment for ADHD
No one treatment fits every teen with ADHS. However, it has been shown that medication, psychosocial therapy, and education can help a child during their treatment. It may be a combination of all or simply medication management. Each teen’s unique history must be considered when discussing treatment methods.
Medications: Stimulants are typically used to treat ADHD. They reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity to improve the ability to focus on prolonged tasks, thus improving work. If the teen does not show symptom improvement after taking medication for a week, the doctor may try adjusting the dosage. If there is still no improvement, the teen may be switched to another medication.
Psychosocial Treatments In individual counseling, a therapist can work with a client to increase self-esteem and modify maladaptive behavior. Family therapy can also be done to assist the family in working together to promote change in the home, and parents can learn to help the child to help cope and improve their behavior. CBT may be used to help the client directly change their behavior. Social skills training can help the teens develop and learn new behavior to respond to situations rather than impulsively react.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps people work on immediate issues. Rather than helping people understand their feelings and actions, it supports them directly in changing their behavior. The support might be practical assistance, like assisting teens in learning how to think through tasks and organize their thoughts
Education: Teens with ADHD can be impacted in their school, and typically the school will develop a 504 plan or IEP to create appropriate learning goals. This involves the parents, family, staff, and the counselor to review the child’s overall needs, and special accommodations can be made.
Overall, teens with ADHD are still capable of learning. With the help of a counselor, proper intervention tailored to the teen, and help with parent involvement, teens can manage their ADHD with minor disruptions and lessen symptomology.
American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition. Arlington, VA., American Psychiatric Association, 2013.
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