Talking to a Teenager who has been Recently Diagnosed with ADHD
By: Lewis S. Odell, Ph.D.
If you have a younger child who has recently been diagnosed with ADHD you probably want to have a simple, informative, and direct conversation with him or her about ADHD. However if you have a teenager with a recent ADHD diagnosis, you are likely to be involved in a far more complex and involved discussion. Teenagers are likely to have many questions about ADHD and often want to be more involved in their treatment. Teens may desire a level of control over ADHD interventions such as medication, tutoring, and accommodations made for them in the classroom, as well. As a result, it is important to consider very carefully how you talk with a teenager who has recently been diagnosed with ADHD.
Perhaps the most important thing when talking to a teenager with ADHD is to be armed with factual information. You can educate yourself about ADHD through the InsideADHD.org website, and there are also many great videos and books that could help to improve your knowledge base.
If you do not feel that you are knowledgeable enough to have this discussion with your teenager, set up an appointment with your pediatrician or a child psychologist who specializes in working with teenagers with ADHD. I recommend that your teenager have an opportunity for some private time with the expert during this meeting, as well as there being time where all family members are together. Also encourage your teen to talk with peers who have been diagnosed with ADHD. Suggest that he or she talk to them about medication, useful study skills, and concerns about self-esteem issues related to ADHD.
There are a few issues that are extremely important for parents to talk about with teenagers who are recently diagnosed with ADHD. These include:
Consider ADHD as a difference rather than as a deficit. While most teenagers with ADHD find that attention difficulties cause some problems in the academic setting, they may also find that they are very capable of focused attention and success in many other realms. Helping your teenager with ADHD begin to identify areas of success where he or she can stay focused and persistent will be very important for your teen’s choice of academic endeavors and future careers. Let him or her know that a higher percentage of people with ADHD are successful entrepreneurs than individuals without ADHD.
Help your teenager to understand that most people with ADHD experience difficulty with executive functioning. By reframing ADHD as a disorder of executive functions, you are more likely to be able to help your teen recognize the types of skills he or she might want to improve. For example, many teens with ADHD have problems with organization, planning, working memory, and time management. Helping your child look at specific skills may help him or her see ADHD as a disorder in which it’s possible to target specific areas for improvement.
Help your child to understand the neuroscience of ADHD. You do not have to be an expert on the brain to help your teen search for a better understanding of the science of ADHD. While we are still learning a great deal about ADHD, learning about how the brains of people with ADHD change and vary over time is likely to be useful information. The following videos and articles are great tools for learning that are also engaging so that teens may want to explore them in more detail. By developing an understanding of the neuroscience of the ADHD, teens are also more likely to recognize their strengths and weaknesses and work to make ADHD an asset rather than a deficit.
Learn more about Dr. Odell:
Dr. Odell is the author of numerous essays on the use of digital technologies for improving executive-functioning skills in children in which he has developed concepts such as “play diets” and “engamement” to help parents and teachers understand the impact of digital technologies on children. He is the author of Train Your Brain for Success: A Teenager’s Guide to Executive Functions and Playing Smarter in a Digital World: A Guide to Choosing and Using Popular Video Games and Apps to Improve Executive Functioning in Children and Teens.