Adolescence sparks so many physical, mental, and emotional changes that you might wonder whether ADHD also changes during your teen years. The answer is yes… and no.
ADHD doesn’t disappear when people enter adolescence. Some symptoms might settle down, but others might flare up. If your symptoms change and new challenges emerge, it’s important to know what to do about them, whether you’re a young adult with ADHD or the parent of one.
Here’s what to know about how ADHD affects adolescents.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a health condition that makes it harder for people to:
- pay attention for long periods of time
- organize and follow through on complex tasks
- focus in the presence of distraction
- control impulses
- remain still and quiet
These symptoms may interfere with your ability to function at home, in social settings, and at school or work.
It’s important to note that in childhood, the teen years, and adulthood, ADHD can look different from person to person.
ADHD is not only a childhood condition. Researchers say roughly
That means along with all the other changes adolescence brings, you might also notice some changes in how your ADHD presents. Here are some examples of how ADHD may affect you during your teen years:
Changes in hyperactivity
Many people’s symptoms
One of the hallmarks of childhood ADHD is high energy and an inability to sit still. The amount of physical movement might change for some teens with ADHD. For example,
Academic ups and downs
In late middle school and high school, academic demands increase at the same time as parents and teachers begin expecting students to show more self-discipline and independence. A variety of circumstances can lead to academic challenges:
- The practicalities of high school — changing classrooms, having different teachers, and using lockers — can make it harder to stay organized.
- An increasing number of complex or long-term academic projects can tax your time management skills.
- Collaborating with other students can be a challenge if socializing is difficult for you.
- Fewer parental and educational supports coupled with more independence and autonomy could lead to a drop in academic performance.
For some people with ADHD, social conflicts can intensify or increase during this period. Social conflict isn’t uncommon among teens, but ADHD may present added challenges.
While social conflicts in friendships, families, and dating relationships aren’t uncommon in teen years, they may be more of an issue if you have ADHD.
Mood and self-esteem differences
ADHD symptoms may make normal fluctuations in mood and self-esteem more extreme. Some people with ADHD feel particularly irritable during their teen years.
If you are having trouble in school or in important relationships, you might also be feeling more
Sleep pattern changes
During adolescence, lots of physiological changes can affect sleep patterns:
- Hormones can change your circadian rhythms (the internal “clock” that sets your sleep/wake cycle).
Sleep spindlesand other brain structures that regulate sleep are maturing.
- School demands and social activities may also disrupt your usual sleep schedule.
While these changes are normal, they may complicate matters for people with ADHD, since
Escalation in risk-taking
When teens with ADHD get behind the wheel, impulsivity may cause accidents.
Sexual maturity can also involve some potentially dangerous
Substance use could become problematic. A small
Though adolescence presents new challenges for people with ADHD, it also affords new opportunities.
As academic studies become more difficult, problems with organization and attention may become more obvious, which means some teens are able to get a more accurate diagnosis and receive an effective treatment plan for the first time.
Along with the struggles faced by teens with ADHD, there may also be traits that are considered positive, like
There are also indications that, during adolescence, the
As teens mature, they may be able to articulate their symptoms more clearly, helping parents, educators, and healthcare providers better meet their needs and making them more effective self-advocates.
Researchers aren’t sure exactly what causes ADHD. There appears to be a genetic connection: If you have a sibling with ADHD, for example, you’re roughly
There also seem to be some structural differences in parts of the brain that control impulses,
Some common risk factors for ADHD include:
- having a parent who smoked cigarettes or used alcohol during pregnancy
- having a parent who was exposed to lead or other environmental toxins while pregnant
- having a low birth weight
- experiencing a brain injury
Just as is true during childhood, adolescents benefit from a multimodal treatment plan created by a team that includes the teen and their parents, educators, and healthcare providers.
Here are some current, evidence-based recommendations:
Because height, weight, and other physical factors change dramatically during teen years, it’s a good idea to review medications and dosages with your doctor every year. Some
Medication, combined with behavioral therapy, is still considered the most effective way to treat the core symptoms of ADHD.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on identifying unproductive thinking patterns and replacing them with healthier ones, is highly effective in helping you manage your thoughts and actions.
As you age and mature, CBT may help you learn new social skills and develop the ability to organize, plan, and follow through on tasks in school, on teams and organizations, and at work.
Managing ADHD — especially if both parents and children have the condition — can stress the family. It may be helpful to spend some time together in therapy, building healthy patterns of interaction and problem-solving skills. Family counseling might be a good place to make sure parenting styles are still effective as young people mature.
Physical exercise sharpens your brain’s executive functioning abilities. It also helps you use self-control when you need to pay close attention to something.
The start of high school is a good time to take a look at any IEPs or 504 plans in place. If you’ve just received a new diagnosis, it’s important to put educational supports in place, even if you’re not sure you’ll need them regularly.
You may want to ask:
- How do accommodations work in high school? Does the student have to request them or are they automatically offered?
- Are the accommodations appropriate at this point? Are they meeting your current needs?
- What are your most important goals?
- Are there schedule changes, locker assignments, or other practical changes you can make to facilitate a smoother day?
If the language in an education plan doesn’t make sense to you, or it isn’t tailored to your specific needs, you can meet with the educational team to make changes. Meeting early in the school year, before activities get underway and before grades are in jeopardy, is the best strategy.
- Consider delaying the driver’s license process. Some experts recommend a delay in independent driving because ADHD often slows the development of brain structures that are important to safe driving: executive functions, impulse control, and risk assessment. With that in mind, experts also recommend obtaining a learner’s permit so you have ample time to practice before driving alone. Arguments for and against an independent driving delay can be found
- Think about a manual transmission. Driving experts say the step-by-step driving process can make it easier for people with ADHD to stay attentive and engaged. Also, avoid using cruise control, which is associated with dangerous drifting.
- Discuss the risks of substance use with your doctor. A recent
studyfound that teens who used alcohol or cannabis didn’t understand the risks involved and had never talked about them with a healthcare provider.
Early intervention is really important for teens and young adults with ADHD.
Adolescence introduces several new challenges to teens with ADHD and their families. While some symptoms, like hyperactivity, may recede, others continue.
Early adolescence — or any time you’re noticing a shift in symptoms — is a good time to talk to your doctor, therapists, family members, and teachers to be sure that your medications are working, educational supports are sufficient, and your relationship with your family is positive and supportive.
Yes, there are new challenges with ADHD in the teen years. As you mature, it’s important to ask for what you need so you can stay healthy and start building the life you want.