For Teens: Understanding ADHD

Health Writer

The teen years are tough. You have more responsibility, at home, at school, possibly at work and you need to navigate the ever-changing (and always confusing) social circles.

But if you are a teen with ADHD, these years are often even harder. Symptoms like inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity might interfere with getting homework done, finishing your chores, your job performance and even driving.

Over the next few weeks, we will address these issues, providing tips and ideas to help you better cope with the symptoms of ADHD in teens. We'll specifically address home, school and social issues, but this week, we start with understanding what ADHD is and what the major symptoms are.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is the acronym for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The name includes the word "hyperactive" even though not everyone with ADHD has hyperactivity. ADHD, primarily inattentive type, means that you have more problems with paying attention and don't really have a problem with hyperactivity. ADHD can only be diagnosed by a doctor.

The following is a brief description of the major symptoms. You may have some of these symptoms and not others; you may have a friend with ADHD who struggles with different symptoms.

Inattention - Having a hard time paying attention or being able to sustain your attention on a topic for an extended period of time. However, sometimes when you are really interested in an activity, you can "hyperfocus" or lose track of everything else that is going on around you; for example, when playing video games.

Impulsivity - Doing things without thinking through the possible consequences. You might do things that you know are wrong but in the moment, it seemed like a good idea.

Hyperactivity - Having excessive energy. Many people describe this as feeling like they have a motor that it constantly in overdrive. Frequently, hyperactivity diminishes as you get older or if it doesn't diminish, it changes to feeling fidgety and restless.

Questions About ADHD Teens Often Ask

Does Having ADHD Mean I Am Stupid?

NO ADHD has nothing to do with intelligence. Many people with ADHD are extremely smart, some people believe that many famous people in history, such as Albert Einstein, showed signs of ADHD, but of course, the diagnosis of ADHD wasn't around back then, so we won't ever really know. ADHD has more to do with doing things a different way. You may sometimes have to work harder than your classmates without ADHD or find new ways to accomplish your work but you are probably just as smart as anyone else in your class.

How Did I Get ADHD?

No one knows for sure what causes ADHD but experts agree this is a neurobiological disorder and that those individuals with ADHD have less chemical activity in their brains than those without ADHD. It is thought that ADHD is genetic; you can probably look at your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and see signs of ADHD in some of them.

Do Only Boys Get ADHD?

NO. At one time it was believed that ADHD was a male disorder but it is now known that both boys and girls can have ADHD, although boys are diagnosed more often than girls. This may be because boys tend to have hyperactivity more often than girls and it is therefore more noticeable. Girls often have more problems with inattention, but boys can have inattentive ADHD as well.

Will I Still Have ADHD When I Am an Adult?

ADHD is a neurobiological disorder that you are born with and will probably stay with you throughout your life. Because hyperactivity usually lessens as you get older, it used to be considered a "childhood disorder" but in recent years, this has been changed and many adults still struggle with symptoms of ADHD. Your symptoms, however, may lessen or you might find different ways to cope with symptoms so, as an adult, you may not need medication or have any major difficulties.

Is ADHD all Bad?

As with most things in life, there is good and bad in ADHD. Although at times you may struggle with symptoms of ADHD, there is also a positive side to ADHD. Often, people with ADHD are creative. They think "outside the box" and can be found in all walks of life. For example:

Hyperactivity -endless energy, ability to work longer hours and accomplish more   Impulsiveness - spontaneity, having an more exciting life, gives us a chance to look at problems from different perspectives, fosters creativity

Inattention - the ability to move from one task to another, gives you the chance to experience many different things and ideas to search for your passion

If you have ADHD, the best place to start helping yourself is to understand ADHD and how it may impact your life. While this post gives a basic overview, the following links go into more detail:

ADHD Symptoms in Middle School

When to See a Doctor for Teens with ADD

Who Can Diagnose and Treat ADHD? - ADHD

ADHD - Creating a Treatment Plan

ADD or ADHD: Which is Correct?

ADD vs. ADHD: Is One Better (or Worse) than the Other?