A national parent survey found that around 6.1 million children (9.4%) have ADHD. When many think of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), they picture young children. However, around 3 million people with ADHD are between the ages of 12-17. There are many questions and some breakthroughs about how the condition changes as children get older and approach adulthood.
We look at what parents can expect of tweens and teens with ADHD.
It’s helpful to define what ADHD is and how it affects a child’s behavior and ability to learn.
It is a diagnosed medical condition that affects how a child’s brain functions and develops. This makes it difficult for them to sit still and focus on tasks.
The Mayo Clinic identifies 3 subtypes of ADHD.
- Predominantly inattentive
- Predominantly hyperactive
- Combination of both
Children who are “inattentive” struggle to focus or finish tasks. “Hyperactive” children have trouble sitting still for any length of time. They also tend to interrupt and shout out answers in class, rather than wait for the teacher to call on them.
Most children are diagnosed with ADHD in their early school years. Over time, children can learn to adapt and cope with their condition, but what happens once they get older? How is ADHD different in adolescence and teens versus young children?
ADHD in the pre-adolescent years
Most children with ADHD are diagnosed in preschool or early grades. Up to 80% of those continue to display symptoms of overactivity, inattention, and impulsive behavior into adolescence. This can affect them academically, socially, and emotionally.
The main symptoms of ADHD, such as inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity, don’t disappear with age. However, they may become subtler, as children learn to self-regulate.
At the same time, academic and social pressure is increasing, which puts a greater burden on them to meet certain expectations. This can have several consequences academically, socially, emotionally, and psychologically.
Pronounced symptoms in adolescents include:
- Deficits in executive function (Inability to prioritize and manage thoughts and actions)
- Lower tolerance for frustration
- Pronounced emotional responses to situations
- May appear emotionally immature compared to peers
- Trouble socializing and making friends
ADHD and teenagers
The teenage years are rarely fun for anyone, and that goes doubly for teens with ADHD. By this age, kids are fully aware that they are different. The stigma of ADHD can lead to embarrassment. Teenagers may want to pretend their symptoms have lessened or even disappeared, but they rarely do.
Other problems may become more of an issue than a lack of focus, however.
“Teens with ADHD have higher rates of disruptive and non-disruptive problems including anxiety, depression, oppositional behavior, and school failure,” according to MyADHD.org.
The increasing academic demands of high school only make things more challenging. Teens also face more social pressure. If they are rejected by their peers or have trouble making friends, they may feel increasingly isolated. This, in turn, leads to more emotional and psychological problems.
That’s not even taking into account normal teenage angst and typical behavior such as defiance and moodiness. Teens with ADHD are likely to test your authority and will develop their own thoughts/feelings about their lives, including the management of their condition.
How you can help at home
Adolescents and teens with ADHD should be encouraged to seek help, particularly when it comes to schoolwork. They can be taught how to take better notes, time management skills and learn organizational tools that will help them stay on track. Some teens may qualify for special classroom accommodations, such as extra time to take tests or the ability to take tests in an isolated area with fewer distractions.
Helping with their social lives is a challenge. The impulsivity, hyperactivity, and aggressive tendencies typical of teens with ADHD can make it difficult for them to form positive relationships with their peers. However, it’s important to provide opportunities for teens to participate in structured social activities. These can include sports, clubs, or youth groups that allow them to channel their natural tendencies more positively.
Nearly half of adolescents and teens fail to take ADHD prescribed medications for several reasons. Some don’t like the way the medication makes them feel. They may even have physical reactions and symptoms like headaches, increased anxiety, and nausea. It’s important to talk about these issues with your teen and to work toward solutions that will make both sides happy.
Find help at The Learning Lab
There is no question that ADHD is something that will stay with your child as they age. Knowing the struggles and symptoms of ADHD in tweens and teens will help you get a grasp on handling developing issues.
Your child may also benefit from support from The Learning Lab. We are a specialized center for children who struggle with ADHD and other learning differences, including executive functioning skills and dyslexia. We provide a safe environment where students can learn how to reach their potential. Our program supports students who struggle in a traditional school setting.
If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, contact us to find out how we can help.