The Past, Present, and Future of Teen ADHD

There have been significant advances in the way that scientists saw Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in children and teens. Initially, it was seen as a behavioral disorder that was the result of inconsistent parenting, environmental issues, and early childhood experiences. In the past, the psychological illness was treated with stimulants to keep teens focused and on task.

However, brain research and results from recent studies have pointed to a new way of looking at this mental illness differently. It’s common for teens with symptoms of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to be recognized and diagnosed in early childhood. Because their symptoms often interrupt their school performance, the illness is frequently caught early. Symptoms of teen ADHD include difficulty with paying attention, difficulty with organization, excessive talking, fidgeting, along with hyperactivity and impulsivity. These symptoms can impair a child’s functioning in school, and for this reason, those children with ADHD are often easily recognized because of the behavioral and academic issues that surface as a result of their symptoms.

Advances in studying this illness show that parts of the brain develop differently in children and teens with ADHD. For instance, the frontal cortex, which supports a teen’s memory, their ability to focus, plan ahead, and suppress inappropriate behavior is impaired in teens with ADHD. At the same time, the motor cortex, which controls movement tends to mature faster in those with ADHD. With this knowledge, researchers have been able to find treatment alternatives to medication. In many cases, medication may still be necessary, yet doses can be lowered when combined with new treatment methods.

For instance, it’s common to prescribe stimulants, such as amphetamines, which activate the brain in areas that facilitate attention and focus. For children and teens, treatment will frequently include medication and therapy or a combination of these. However, today, lower doses of a stimulant combined with behavioral therapy and/or with parent training has shown to be effective.

Therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is often used as a part of treatment for teen ADHD. This form of therapy explores the relationships between thinking, feeling, and behaving. In this way, a teen can become more aware of his or her patterns of thought and how they influence behavior, and more importantly, make better choices. Both medication and therapy combined can significantly support a teen in their success at school, home and work. Training for parents can support them in responding to their children differently and giving them the help they need to in turn support their teens.

A recent study showed that those children and teens with ADHD who went untreated later experienced higher rates of divorce, unemployment, addiction, and disability. Clearly, the need for treatment methods as well as properly screening for the illness is necessary.

For the future, research continues to search for what is effective. In particular, studies are attempting to find treatment methods for teen ADHD that doesn’t require the use of stimulants. This will be beneficial for those children and teens who do not respond to medication or who cannot take it for one reason or another. In the future, there might be a more thorough understanding of the illness as well as additional options for treatment.


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Teens. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved on June 23, 2014 from


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