Living with ADHD as a Teenager

Living with ADHD as a Teenager

When you have ADHD while you’re in your teens, the struggles can be magnified. After all, you already have to deal with all the physical and mental changes, as well as responsibilities. Here’s what to know about ADHD in teens. 

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ADHD Teenager Struggles I Should Have Known

One of my regrets in life was failing to seek an ADHD diagnosis and not addressing all the struggles I faced during my younger years head-on. But, I cannot wholly blame myself for taking no action because I was entirely clueless back then. There's limited information about the neurodivergent disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Furthermore, people tend to judge you when they find out you are different. In a way, I was afraid of getting diagnosed because I didn’t want to be judged. As a result, I internalized all my feelings, thinking something was wrong with me and tanked every hardship until I could not bear them anymore 😭.

I lived with undiagnosed ADHD as a teenager

I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder late. I was in my late-20s when I had the chance to talk to a mental health professional 👩‍⚕️ about the things I was struggling with. And to my surprise (and maybe, delight), an unexpected diagnosis of this developmental disorder - ADHD - was all that I received. From that moment, I felt a little vindicated 💪. The struggles I experienced were not just in my head. Moreover, they weren’t my fault. I had ADHD all along. I wish I had confronted it beforehand!

now I understand how normal teenage challenges can be aggravated by ADHD

As a young adult with undiagnosed ADHD, a lot of things were going on with my body and even with my brain. Puberty hits differently for children who have this condition. Aside from the transition from being a child and a young adult who needs to prepare for more responsibilities, the ADHD symptoms (which I barely knew before) provided an additional level of challenge to my daily struggles. Everything was an emotional rollercoaster back then, and I just hoped I knew what was happening was not entirely my fault 🥺.

Alice as a Clueless Teenager with ADHD Symptoms

Almost everyone discusses ADHD as a neurodivergent disorder that occurs in younger children. In fact, if you raise the issue of ADHD, people might immediately associate it with children 🧒. However, please note that ADHD affects adolescents and adults, too. We have to keep in mind that young adults already have a lot on their plate, so supporting them should be a priority. Imagine going through many ADHD struggles on top of common teenage issues!

As soon as I stepped out of the clinic of my mental health doctor, several scenes flashbacked in my newly identified “ADHD brain.” 🧠 Moments where I knew I had a massive chance to ace my academic performance, but had been spoiled by my inability to pay attention. I also now understand why I have plenty of extracurricular activities I wanted to try but quickly lose interest in as soon as I learned the slightest skill needed or was faced with a bit of inconvenience along the way.

There were a lot of things I wanted to say when it comes to dealing with ADHD symptoms in my teenage years. After an official ADHD diagnosis, I can conclude that some of the traits and risky behaviors can sometimes be aggravated by the different physical and psychological changes of being a teenager. As a child matures, some of the symptoms and ADHD characteristics may not always be present. But, there are still times when they can get in the way. As such, teens with ADHD needed help like I needed it 🙋‍♀️ when I was younger.

Official Diagnosis for Teens with ADHD

Before anything else, know that everyone, regardless of age, undergoes the same process to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Mental health professionals will use what the American Psychiatric Association established to reach an accurate diagnosis: the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders 📚.

In other words, no matter what your age is, you’ll be checked for the symptoms listed in the DSM-5. Here are some of the guidelines to be considered for an ADHD diagnosis during the teen years:

  • Six or more symptoms of Inattentive ADHD until the age of 16; 5 or more at the age of 17 and up. 
  • Six or more Hyperactivity/Impulsivity ADHD traits; 5 or more at the age of 17 and up. 
  • When a teenager has enough symptoms under each type, they can be categorized under Combined ADHD type.
  • These struggles should affect two or more settings (home, school, work, or social skills).
  • The symptoms should have started before age 12.
  • There is clear evidence of substantial struggles in at least one major area in life (social settings, academic expectations, occupational performance)
many teens are disorganized but I was all over the place

If you are lost with your struggles, just like I was when I was younger, it is best to consult your family members, especially your parents, to help you get the proper diagnosis and intervention👩‍⚕️ . This can help you understand your condition better and make things easier for you, especially regarding school performance and other related aspects of your life. It can give you the right direction for treating ADHD in teens, like behavioral therapy, taking medication, or both.

Living in Chaos as an Unorganized ADHD Teen

Do you wonder why many people with ADHD struggle to organize their thoughts or even stuff? You'll see many teens with ADHD who have their school supplies, used clothes, and personal belongings all cluttered 🧴 🧽 👚. While other teens may seem prim and proper or seen as young adults who have their lives all figured out, ADHD teens often have an affected executive functioning which holds the ability to plan, organize, and get things done.

many teens are messy but I was living in constant chaos

You might easily forget deadlines 📅 or fail to turn in a project on time because you can't seem to organize your thoughts well. When I was younger, the home organization was one of the tasks I hated. I was living in a room full of chaos and stuff. I had no urge or motivation to clean up, and I often got scolded by my parents because of it.

My parents told me how lazy I am or sometimes wondered when I will have the mental and emotional maturity to own up to everything I do. I always hear these kinds of remarks that pertain to my “lack of willingness” to do routine tasks. Well, I always felt that something was making me unmotivated to do these things, but back then, I didn't know it was Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

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School is Boring and Seems Uninteresting

An ADHD child, like any curious child, grows up with a lot of questions inside their brain🧠. I always wonder why we need to constantly find x in mathematical equations or go through the history of how the World War started. The possible difference is that, as a child with ADHD, I felt that these lessons are time-consuming. And with the poor concentration that I tend to have, I get easily distracted when uninteresting subjects come, hence, my study skills are at an all-time low during these periods.

many teens find school boring.. but it felt like a torture to me

However, when I attended school with subjects that interested me, I found myself more engaged and motivated 👌  to participate in class. When I had school scheduled for these interesting classes, I got up earlier than normal, excitedly went to school, and didn't have any problem attending them, even if they lasted for a couple of hours. But when it's a lesson about history and mathematics, expect me to do the opposite😪.

Research shows that ADHD affects the production of the brain's dopamine, a happy hormone that allows us to “feel good”. The thing is, when we have activities or lessons that seem uninteresting to us, it is hard to produce these neurotransmitters, making it difficult to focus on them.

When Most Teens are Curious, I was Reckless

One of the things that got accentuated when I was in my teenage years was my hyperactivity & impulsivity. These core symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder leveled up when partnered with puberty and lack of self-control 😔. I was prone to many careless mistakes, went to a phase of adventures and spur-of-the-moment activities, and was always subjected to peer pressure. During this phase of my life, I felt the most alive when I acted impulsively, not thinking of any consequence that could potentially happen after.

many teens are impulsive, but I was reckless

Having risky behaviors may be common for teenagers with ADHD, especially when they experience peer pressure. Some say that as adolescents, you are more likely to have a moment of impulsivity. When you have ADHD, this can make you even more prone to more problems, such as academic underachievement, use of drugs and other substance abuse, unsafe sexual activity, or exposure to accidents  🚦🛑.

Peer rejection can sometimes cause this since we feel that to fit in, we need to do what other people our age are doing. So we try to experiment with anything that seems typical to others. When I talked about this to a clinical psychologist after my ADHD diagnosis, she said it is essential to have a sound support system during our teen years, whether it is our parents 💏, friends, or teachers. These people can provide a primary care setting and help us get through this stage by being more understanding and patient with us.

The Emotional Stability of Teenagers with ADHD

Experts conducted a study regarding the emotional regulation of people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The results of this study stated that we are more prone to experience different emotions 😵, such as happiness, sadness, anger, and anxiety. We also tend to feel these emotions more intensely than people who don't have ADHD. The good news is that emotional regulation intervention might help. 

many teens are experiencing mood swings but I was emotionally struggling

Now I understand why I frequently had mood swings during my younger years. I quickly feel rejected when they wouldn't go with me on adventures or when my suggestions weren't even considered. 

I often thought my peer relationships would be compromised because of the way I handled my emotions and impulsively reacted to things. It was perhaps one of the reasons why it was hard for me to make and keep friends as a teen with ADHD 🤔.

That's when I started to feel different. My social skills were sometimes tested, and I had to mask different symptoms. It was my way to treat ADHD as something that's not that big of a deal. I even reached a point when, because of my low self-esteem, I didn't want to go out at all and just spend the rest of my day in my room. I spent most of the time alone, dealing with everything happening to me.

The Relief of Having an Early ADHD Diagnosis

Treating ADHD is not impossible. In fact, it is something you must do as soon as possible 🙌. 

There are plenty of options to manage the symptoms of ADHD. They can be done through behavior therapy, solving inattention by taking stimulant medications, and addressing mental health issues by talking to your mental health professional👩‍⚕️.

However, when an official ADHD diagnosis has not been made, a teenager suspected to have ADHD might struggle with all the changes happening simultaneously. Just like what I have experienced, my life would be more understandable and manageable if I knew what was going on during my teenage years.

It is best to get an official diagnosis early on to get the proper treatment and support you need. As an adolescent, it can be hard to manage everything independently, especially when you are still trying to figure out who you are and what you want in life. A sound support system from people who understand what you are dealing with can make all the difference 🥰.

If you think you or your teenager might have ADHD, don't hesitate to consult a mental health professional to get an accurate diagnosis. It could be the best thing you ever do for yourself or your child. 

Living with ADHD as a Teenager: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Can ADHD appear in teenage years?

Yes, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can appear in teenagers. In fact, ADHD symptoms tend to intensify during adolescence. However, the symptoms already started before the age of 12.

As a teenager, how can you tell if you have ADHD?

It's not easy to tell if someone has ADHD because the symptoms are encompassing and might overlap with other mental health conditions. But there are some symptoms that can be helpful in diagnosing this condition:Inability to concentrate on things for long periods of timeFrequently misplacing school supplies and homework materialsPartaking in risky or impulsive behaviors

Is it okay to get an ADHD diagnosis while you’re still an adolescent?

It's normal to feel worried or nervous about getting an ADHD diagnosis while still a teenager. But don't let those feelings keep you from seeing a doctor right away—it could mean the difference between living a happy life and struggling through years of frustration and failure!

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