ADHD: Not just for young kids

Children are more often being diagnosed in their tweens and teens

Many parents associate ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) with younger kids. Often the thinking is that attention disorders are observed when kids enter school, as many of the symptoms associated with ADHD manifest themselves in a more organized, structured setting.     

Although this can be true, some kids can manage their symptoms throughout elementary school without showing clinically acute behaviors until early puberty or later. Some, in fact, make it through school all together and don’t recognize their symptomatology until later in adulthood.

Diagnosis of older adolescents and adults has become more prevalent, challenging the idea that this is a young child disorder. In addition, many parents automatically assume ADHD is directly attributed to hyperactivity. When kids do not show these symptoms, it makes it difficult to believe that their child might have ADHD.

On several occasions, I have begun work with an adolescent because they are depressed, anxious or are acting out. I assess the behaviors and the acuity of how these symptoms are affecting the child.

It is not uncommon for an adolescent with an undiagnosed attention disorder to feel depressed and anxious. Struggling with focus and attention can impact their ability to do well in school, maintain friendships, intensify parent/child relational problems and increase risk-taking behaviors. We often see these kids struggling to keep up with the increasing demands of school and other environments as they age. In addition, many of these same kids report using substances, such as marijuana, alcohol or caffeine to “stop their mind from thinking.”

If your adolescent is showing signs of increased anxiety, depression or an increase in risk-taking behaviors, it is important to connect them with a professional that can help support your child and determine the diagnosis most appropriate to their presenting symptoms and behaviors. Most adolescents are struggling with situational depression or anxiety, meaning that their environment is directly affecting their stress or mood. But in some cases, it is important to rule out the potential of an attention disorder, as this can dramatically change how professionals work with your teen.

Some symptoms of ADHD include:

• fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or during other activities

• has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities

• does not seem to listen when spoken to directly

• does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish school work, chores, or duties in the workplace

• has difficulty organizing tasks and activities

• avoids or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort

• loses things necessary for tasks or activities

• is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli

• is often forgetful in daily activities

If you are concerned that your child has symptoms of depression, anxiety or any of the above symptoms that are negatively impacting their daily life, reach out to a counselor to talk through your concerns. Most presenting clinical issues related to children and adolescents are managed and supported through individual and family therapy, but some cases require psychological testing and potential medication management. Having professional support with help guide you through this process and help you and your child find a positive outcome. 

Tracey Tucker is Executive Director of New Heights: Adventures for Teens and a licensed mental health counselor at Tradeport Counseling Associates in Portsmouth.

More Parenting in the Moment columns by Tracey Tucker

At the finish line

Senior year is perilous for both students and parents

The push and pull of letting go

Managing the many emotions you will have when your child leaves home

Transitioning from teen to adult

How to navigate the changes ahead

Supporting gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered teens

Support for youth revealing their sexual orientation is critical

Struggling for perfection

Nobody’s perfect but some teens think they should be
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