Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is an impulse-control disorder that is a common mental illness among children and teens. In fact, it is so common that some clinicians believe it is grossly overly diagnosed for the benefit of pharmaceutical companies who want to sell their medication as well as parents who want to understand the misbehavior of their child. In fact, ADHD is the most frequently diagnosed childhood mental illness.
For the most part, symptoms of ADHD include:
- difficulty with paying attention
- difficulty with organization
- excessive talking
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. The symptoms of ADD are similar to ADHD minus the hyperactivity and impulsivity. Typically, children with these symptoms of ADHD are recognized and diagnosed in early childhood because they tend to result in behavioral issues that are easy to spot in the classroom.
Yet, sometimes, ADHD isn’t recognized until a child enters adolescence, when his or her psychological development changes and where symptoms might become more noticeable. For instance, parents might notice that their children are exhibiting a short attention span, low frustration tolerance, impulsivity, the need for immediate gratification, distractibility, low self-esteem, and poor peer relationships.
To be more specific, Thomas Brown, Ph.D., author of The Unfocused Mind in Children and the Associate Director of the Yale Clinic for Attention and Related Disorders, highlights six executive functions that are impaired with ADHD:
- Activation – The function of organizing prioritizing, and getting started on tasks is impaired. There will be excessive procrastination to the point where they begin to see completing the task as a minor emergency.
- Focus – The function of focusing, sustaining and shifting attention to tasks is impaired. Those with ADD/ADHD may experience being distracted very easily and an inability to stay focused on the words when reading.
- Effort – The function of regulating alertness, sustaining effort, and processing speed is impaired. Those with ADD/ADHD report that they can complete short-term projects well but have trouble with longer projects that require sustained attention over longer periods of time. They may also experience problems with regulating sleep patterns.
- Emotion – The function of managing frustration and modulating emotions is impaired. Those with ADD/ADHD describe that certain emotions tend to take over and gets in the way of thinking and as a result their communication is flavored by the emotion, whether it’s frustration, anger, worry, disappointment, or desire.
- Memory – The function of utilizing working memory and accessing recall is impaired. Often, those with ADD/ADHD tend to have long-term memory but forget what they had for breakfast that day. They have difficulty holding pieces of information while focusing on a specific task.
- Action – The function of monitoring and self-regulating action is impaired. Even those with ADD (without hyperactivity) might experience acting impulsively. They may jump too quickly to conclusions and have problems with regulating the pace of their actions.
When parents notice these symptoms in their teens, the first step to take is to call a mental health professional to get support in responding to a teen and building a strong parent-teen relationship. Furthermore, Colleen Alexander-Roberts, author of The ADHD Parenting Handbook, suggest the following tips for parents:
- Be open about the disability and accept your teen the way he or she is.
- Avoid using demeaning and negative terms that are often used when discussing someone with a mental illness or disability.
- Don’t hide the disability from others. In fact, when teachers, doctors, friends, and peers are familiar with the fact that your teen has ADHD, they might be more understanding when arguments or conflicts arise.
- Avoid comparing your children to other teens who don’t have ADHD.
- Notice the positive coping strategies that your teen has. Get to know the good traits of your teen so that you’re not always heavy with having to manage his or her symptoms.
This list is meant to be helpful tips for parents who are new to the idea that their teen might have a diagnosis of teen ADHD. It might also be helpful to teens who are also discovering their symptoms and learning more about themselves.