Why Teenagers Need to Know about ADHD
By: Lewis S. Odell, Ph.D.
Teenagers who have been diagnosed with ADHD frequently experience difficulty with sustaining their attention in the classroom, find themselves to be forgetful, and may have problems processing information as readily as their peers. They may be extremely intelligent and capable, but producing at the levels they would like to at school can be a great challenge. ADHD can have a very significant impact on teenagers’ self-esteem and may cause them to doubt themselves not only in the academic classroom but also amongst their peers while engaged in sporting and extracurricular activities and in taking on new challenges.
Unfortunately, many teens with ADHD view it as something that is a life sentence for mediocrity rather than as a challenge that they can overcome and rarely see it as an asset that may help them in the future. They may also experience a sense of learned helplessness in which they feel as if their treatment of ADHD has been imposed upon them rather than chosen by them. Whether it be the development of a 504 plan for the classroom, engagement in psychotherapy, medication to address attention concerns, or tutoring to help them with school, many teenagers have had little input into these interventions.
A much better strategy for teenagers with ADHD is to empower them with knowledge, the capacity to advocate for themselves, tools and technologies that can help them, and an attitude that a diagnosis of ADHD does not need to impair them in any manner. For teenagers to be truly successful in school they need to be self-motivated, have some autonomy about their decision making, and take charge of the problems that ADHD presents to them. While some teenagers with ADHD may be slightly less mature than their peers, it is still incumbent upon parents and educators to help them develop some of these skills.
Here are a few suggestions:
1. Provide teenagers with ADHD information about the disorder so that they can better understand their unique set of strengths and weaknesses. Help them to understand that many other teenagers and adults experience similar difficulties and that their efforts and decisions can help them to improve. Use teenagers’ interest in technology to provide them with websites, videos, and social media that can better inform them about ADHD.
2. Help teens with ADHD to envision their future. Similar to adults with ADHD, teens with ADHD may struggle to think about their future and be more oriented in the present. Helping them to identify their areas of focus and interest can be extremely powerful when it comes to thinking about future education and careers. ADHD is often described as a disorder of intention rather than attention. When teens begin to realize that there are many facets of their lives when they are very focused and attentive, they start to be able to see where they can be successful in their future education and vocation.
3. Provide teens with information about activities and strategies that can help them better regulate their attention and focus. Assist them in understanding the research that describes the power of vigorous physical exercise to improve attention and learning. Familiarize them with information about diet, sleep, and mindfulness strategies that can also enhance attention span and learning.
4. Encourage teens to use their technologies to help them with attention problems. Do not simply provide them with the technology, but convey the importance of using it on a regular basis in order for it to have a fundamental impact. Tools such as Google calendars, Evernote, and Livescribe can be extremely helpful for teens with ADHD.