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5 Things Your Teen Needs to Know About ADHD


Updated August 13, 2012

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5 Things Your Teen Needs to Know About ADHD
Photo © Dimitri Vervitsiotis

Being diagnosed with ADHD as a teenager can result in a wide range of feelings and reactions. Your teen may have a number of questions and even quite a few misperceptions about ADHD. Learning about ADHD, the unique way it impacts his or her life, and how to manage symptoms is often an ongoing process. Below are 5 things that your teen needs to know about having ADHD, especially if he or she has been recently diagnosed (and they are also good reminders for those who were diagnosed at younger ages or even as adults!).

1. Having ADHD Does Not Make You "Less Than"

You may have a range of emotions around your ADHD diagnosis. Adolescence is often a time when you are trying to figure out how you fit in, and so feeling "different" from one's peers can be quite painful. Social pressures are often strongly felt. For some kids, just getting through the day and avoiding embarrassment and social criticism is the objective. The teenage years can be awkward enough without having to deal with the stigma that is often associated with the ADHD diagnosis. Getting accurate information about ADHD is vital. ADHD does not make a person "damaged" or "defective" or "less than." It does create challenges, but challenges can be met and overcome with appropriate treatment and supports in place.

2. ADHD Can Affect People In Differing Ways

Not only are there different types of ADHD (the hyperactive/impulsive type, the inattentive type, and the combined type), but ADHD can look very different from person to person. Symptoms of ADHD and the way ADHD impacts one's life can also change as that person ages and moves through different life stages. Some people have symptoms that are only mildly impairing, while others have symptoms that can be severely impairing. Though there are common traits that people with ADHD share, such as difficulties with attention, self-regulation and inhibition, the way these traits show up in one's life can be quite varying.

It is also important to understand that symptoms of ADHD can be influenced by situational factors and one's environment. Stress, fatigue, poor diet, smoking, alcohol consumption, and other poor health choices can negatively impact symptoms. On the flip side, regular exercise, quality sleep, good nutrition, positive supportive relationships with others, and a structured school and home environment -- these can be of great help in managing the impact of ADHD in your life.

3. Proper Treatment of ADHD Requires Ongoing Tweaking

The focus in treating ADHD is to help a person better manage symptoms, therefore lessening the negative impact that ADHD can have in one's life and allowing areas of strengths to shine. By effectively managing symptoms, a person is better equipped to build on innate strengths and reach his or her full potential. Treatment for ADHD involves a multi-pronged approach and there are many strategies to incorporate into your life to help. Learning all you can about ADHD helps you to understand more about your own ADHD and how to best manage it.

Parent training and education about ADHD for the whole family is also an important component of treatment. Medication, behavior management, organizational strategies, lifestyle changes, school/work accommodations and modifications, exercise, problem solving and communication skills training, counseling, coaching -- many of these approaches are often part of a comprehensive treatment plan for managing symptoms of ADHD.

Keep in mind that there is no "one size fits all" approach regarding these strategies. Treatment must be tailored to your individual needs and requires not only individualized strategies, but also ongoing tweaking and adjusting so that it works best for you. This is especially important to remember in regard to medication. Many people begin medication, only to stop when unwanted side effects occur or if the effectiveness of the medication seems to wane. Medication management is an ongoing process. Work closely with your doctor to make adjustments and fine-tune for optimal effectiveness.

4. ADHD Runs in Families

If you have ADHD, there is a good chance that others in your biological family may also have it. ADHD is a highly inherited condition, so it tends to run in families. Research continues to focus on identifying which genes or combination of genes may cause someone to be more susceptible to ADHD.

ADHD is something you are born with (in most cases), even if you have only recently been diagnosed as a teenager. Some kids who aren't diagnosed until adolescence are able to successfully manage challenges during the younger years. The teenage years bring on a whole new set of responsibilities and demands, however, so the impairments related to ADHD may become more obvious and more difficult to cope with and manage. If you were recently diagnosed as a teenager, this may be what happened with you. You, your family, and your teachers may not have recognized the ADHD until now.

Though you may have many complicated feelings about your diagnosis, knowing that you have ADHD is a good thing. With this information, you now understand what has been causing the problems and you can move forward in a solution-focused way. You are not alone. Many people have ADHD, and with proper treatment and support, you can successfully manage symptoms and reach your full potential.

5. It Is Important to Advocate For What You Need

Understanding what you need and learning to advocate for these things is an important part of growing up and becoming independent. Becoming an expert on your own ADHD takes time and is a continual learning process. When you understand how your ADHD comes into play at school, with peers, on sports teams and after-school activities, and at home and with family -- and you know what strategies can help reduce that impact -- then you can speak up for what you need before problems occur. This is called being "proactive." When you are proactive, you are anticipating where challenges might occur and getting strategies in place to help you to be more successful. Never use ADHD as an excuse.

Symptoms of ADHD can certainly create many challenges that you must learn to cope with and manage. Take charge of the things you can change and of the areas you have control over. Identify resources and accommodations that you need and connect with the people who can help provide support in reaching your goals. ADHD is a life-long condition. Approximately, two thirds of teenagers with ADHD continue to experience significant symptoms into adulthood. Know that finding appropriate systems of support and asking for help is a great strength and can make your journey with ADHD a little easier.

Read more about Teenagers With ADHD.


Chris A. Zeigler Dendy, Teenagers With ADD and ADHD: A Guide for Parents and Professionals, Woodbine House, 2006.

Russell A. Barkley, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Handbook for Diagnosis and Treatment, The Guilford Press, 2006.

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