Recognizing the Signs of ADHD in Adolescents

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a chronic neurodevelopmental condition that’s usually spotted during elementary school, and the average age at the time of diagnosis is 7.

 Because kids with disruptive hyperactive/impulsive behaviors are more likely to be evaluated for the disorder than kids who demonstrate “quiet” inattentive behaviors, some cases of ADHD go unnoticed and undiagnosed until adolescence. 

If you suspect that your tween or teen has ADHD, our team at EXIS Recovery can help. Let’s explore how ADHD symptoms typically appear in adolescence, and why a proper diagnosis is key to helping your adolescent shrink the developmental gap that the disorder can cause. 

ADHD symptoms in adolescence 

All adolescents can be distracted, disorganized, restless, and impulsive at times. But for young people with ADHD, these normal behaviors aren’t occasional and mild — they’re persistent and severe enough to affect daily life.

For younger kids and adolescents alike, ADHD symptoms and related impairments can vary widely by age, gender, family environment, individual strengths, and the presence (or absence) of a coexisting disorder like depression or anxiety.

While the three main subtypes of ADHD are the same for people of all ages, the symptoms of each subtype tend to present differently in each stage of life, including adolescence. 

Hyperactive/impulsive ADHD

Younger children affected by this type of ADHD typically have trouble sitting still, waiting their turn, or keeping their hands to themselves. Although these basic hyperactive symptoms tend to subside with age and maturity, adolescents with the hyperactive/impulsive type of ADHD still tend to feel more restless — and act more impulsively — than most of their peers. 

A preteen or teen with ADHD may always be “on the go,” finding ways to keep themselves busy as if they’re driven by a high-energy motor. They may also find it hard to think before they act, control their immediate reactions, or restrain their emotions when necessary. 

Adolescents with hyperactive/impulsive tendencies may also be driven by instant gratification, gravitating toward activities that offer an instant reward instead of choosing activities that take more effort to attain greater, but delayed, rewards.

Inattentive ADHD

Younger children affected by inattentive ADHD are easily distracted, have trouble focusing, and find it difficult to follow detailed directions. Left untreated in early childhood, inattentive ADHD symptoms tend to take center stage in adolescence. 

Adolescents with predominantly inattentive ADHD find it hard to focus their attention on any single task or activity for a sustained amount of time, and often grow bored quickly when a task is unfamiliar and/or highly detailed. Even so, most tween and teens with inattentive ADHD have no trouble paying attention or staying focused when they’re doing something they truly enjoy. 

Inattentive ADHD can make adolescents seem “spacey,” or as if they always have their heads in the clouds. This can make it much harder for them to remember homework assignments or complete them with accuracy, particularly as academic expectations continue to rise each year. 

Tweens and teens affected by inattentive ADHD also tend to process information more slowly and less accurately — and make careless mistakes more often — than their peers. 

Combined ADHD

Most adolescents with ADHD demonstrate a mixture of hyperactive, impulsive, and inattentive symptoms. For tweens and teens with combined ADHD, feelings of restlessness, lack of control, and difficulty processing information can make it very challenging to navigate greater personal autonomy while living up to ever-increasing expectations at home and in school. 

The benefits of a proper diagnosis

Adolescence is a notoriously tough time in life, even for well-adjusted tweens and teens who aren’t living with the effects of ADHD. 

It can be challenging for any young person to balance greater independence with more intense peer influence, higher social and academic expectations, and continual physical and emotional changes, but adolescents with ADHD face an extra set of challenges.

The hormonal changes of puberty can aggravate and intensify ADHD symptoms, while tougher academics can tax their executive functioning skills to the max. 

And given that most adolescents are already somewhat impulsive by nature, tweens and teens who are living with ADHD may be more likely to experience serious consequences if impulsive behaviors take the lead when they’re learning to drive, experimenting with drugs or alcohol, or engaging in sexual activity. 

If you believe your adolescent has undiagnosed ADHD, it’s crucial to have them evaluated as soon as possible. The assessment process may reveal that your child does have ADHD, or it may point to a different mental health disorder or learning disability. 

Because adolescents with ADHD are more likely to struggle with co-occurring conditions like depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders, our team at EXIS Recovery takes every precaution to conduct thorough, highly detailed evaluations that lead to an accurate and complete diagnosis.

To schedule an ADHD evaluation for your son or daughter, call our office in West Los Angeles, California, at 424-244-3513 during our normal business hours, or use the easy online booking tool to make an appointment any time.

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