Types of Teen Attention Deficit Disorder: Inward, Outward, and Structured

According to Lynn Weiss, Ph.D, author of A.D.D. and Creativity: Tapping Your Inner Muse, there are three ways that an adolescent might experience their ADD symptoms. Her book focuses on how to work with the challenges of ADD versus being imprisoned by them. She points to the relationship between Attention Deficit Disorder and creativity and how to use symptoms of ADD to enhance creativity versus allowing them to get in the way of being creative.

Attention Deficit Disorder

Teen Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is not as well known as ADHD – Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Essentially, teen Attention Deficit Disorder is ADHD without hyperactivity. The typical symptoms experienced by ADD teens include:

  • difficulty in paying attention to details
  • impulsivity
  • making careless mistakes
  • trouble listening to others
  • problems with organization
  • distractibility

The fact that hyperactivity is a symptom that is not present with ADD makes it more difficult to diagnose and recognize in children.

In fact, children with symptoms of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are recognized and diagnosed in early childhood, whereas children with ADD are not usually recognized until adolescence. Children with ADHD are often easily recognized because of the behavioral and academic issues that surface as a result of their symptoms. However, attention deficit problems increase in children as they enter the middle and high school years, when academic responsibilities increase. For this reason, ADD is commonly diagnosed in adolescence versus early childhood.


After working with many individuals diagnosed with ADD, Lynn Weiss has categorized the way that people with ADD display their symptoms into three main categories: Outwardly Expressed ADD, Inwardly Directed ADD, and Highly Structured ADD.

The outwardly expressed ADD teen is typically very outgoing, creative, spontaneous, and an overachiever. Yet at the same time, they can be sensitive, intuitive, and empathic. They tend to be extremely active, physically and verbally. One challenge for an outwardly expressed ADD teen is to learn how to channel energy appropriately. Learning how to use the high levels of energy that come with ADD can facilitate being very productive. Whereas in other cases, it might get a teen into a lot of trouble. (It’s important to make the distinction between the high level of energy that comes with ADD and ADHD versus the mania that some teens experience who have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. See the article on the differences between them.)


The inwardly ADD teen is often  a restless dreamer. He or she may not know where to apply his or her talents and gifts. They are artists, inventors, nature-lovers, and writers. Inwardly directed ADD adolescents, although still developing emotionally and psychologically, may not be as communicative outwardly but express themselves through their art, work, or body language. They may not be hyper verbal like the outwardly expressed teen, but they find other ways to communicate their talents.

Finally, a highly structured ADD teen finds it difficult to create structure and so when a structure is in place, he or she will want to hang on to it as much as possible. Structure, order, building a foundation are important ways in which this type of ADD adolescent displays symptoms. Attention to detail and precision requires high level of energy. Some can be perfectionists and want to reach the highest level of efficiency in completing their schoolwork or job responsibilities.


Although the above symptoms in teens are not as cut and dry, these categories can facilitate understanding adolescents with ADD. Some adolescents might have a combination of these traits and others might be strictly within one of these categories. Nonetheless, understanding the disorder as well as how its symptoms show facilitates managing ADD in a way that is advantageous and beneficial.

Further Reading