ADHD in adolescents: symptoms and treatment during puberty

What symptoms do ADHD sufferers exhibit during adolescence? What treatment is there and what challenges do teenagers with ADHD face during puberty? Find out all about ADHD during childhood/adolescence and how to cope with ADHD in school.

23.01.2024 Imke Schmitz 6 minutes

ADHD in adolescents: what is it?

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurological developmental disorder which is often characterised by symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, impulsiveness and sometimes erratic behaviour. Originally regarded as a disorder that primarily affected children, it is now known to affect adolescents and adults too. ADHD can become more pronounced in teenagers during puberty, often posing an additional challenge to young people. However, there are various treatments for ADHD in adolescence aimed at supporting those affected and relatives.

ADHD in teenagers: what are the symptoms?

ADHD is associated with three core symptoms which may be exhibited by ADHD sufferers of all ages:

  1. Inattentiveness
  2. Hyperactivity
  3. Impulsiveness

These ADHD symptoms often become more pronounced in adolescence because teenagers are faced with many social, physical, and emotional changes. ADHD, therefore, poses an additional challenge for many adolescent sufferers. In addition to the symptoms mentioned, there are others which are associated specifically with ADHD in teenagers, e.g. a lack of motivation and more recklessness.

Interestingly, the symptoms of ADHD in girls during puberty differ from those of boys. While ADHD and puberty often cause hyperactive and impulsive behaviour in boys, girls tend to direct their symptoms inward. This may, for example, take the form of daydreaming or inattentiveness – one of the reasons why ADHD is less obvious in girls during puberty.

By the way, ADHD is not always obvious in adolescents. Due to the many changes during puberty, relatives or doctors can sometimes overlook or misinterpret the symptoms. Talk to a medical professional if you suspect that your child may have ADHD.

ADHD in adults in contrast to ADHD in children

ADHD may manifest itself in children through symptoms like hyperactivity and difficulty concentrating. Children suffering from ADHD stand out because they are constantly in motion and react impulsively. They may also have difficulties finishing tasks at school. In such cases, it is important that teaching staff and parents work together. A school may make a point of ensuring encouragement and inclusion for children with ADHD. These measures mean that mainstream schools may be suitable for children suffering from ADHD too.

The symptoms often change during the transition to adulthood: in adults, ADHD may involve symptoms such as difficulty concentrating. Even if adults do not demonstrate as much obvious hyperactivity, they still suffer from forgetfulness and inattentiveness and have difficulties bringing things to fruition and organising themselves. Do you think you may be affected by ADHD? If so, ask a specialist about ADHD testing for adults.

What consequences does ADHD have for adolescents?

ADHD may see adolescents confronted with various emotional and social challenges.

  • School: adolescents with ADHD often have problems concentrating in lessons, something which may lead to poorer performance. They may also find it difficult to follow instructions and complete tasks on time.
  • Social circle: in adolescence, ADHD can lead to impulsive behaviour and an inability to regulate emotions. This means it can be difficult for teenagers suffering from ADHD to build and maintain stable relationships with their peers.
  • Self-esteem and self-perception: if young ADHD sufferers notice that their social circle is responding negatively to their ADHD, this can lead to low self-esteem. As a result, those affected tend to withdraw and isolate themselves.
  • Risk of other mental illnesses: those affected are at increased risk of developing mental illnesses like addiction or anxiety disorders. ADHD and youth depression may also be linked, for instance, if those affected experience social exclusion and loneliness.

ADHD and school?

ADHD shapes the school day of many young people: everyday situations can be overwhelming for them because their symptoms make learning and social contact more difficult.

Effectively coping with ADHD in school requires individual strategies and aids. This includes study plans that are tailored to the needs of those affected. Schedules can help those suffering from ADHD to keep an overview at school. What’s more, cooperation between teachers and parents is crucial when it comes to ADHD. In addition to aids at school, this creates a strong support network for young people with ADHD and helps them to reach their full potential.

Good to know: Switzerland has been using an integrated approach in its education system since 2011. In other words, all children should be taught in mainstream schools “wherever possible”. Are you looking for a suitable school for young people with ADHD? If so, you may want to bear some of the following criteria in mind:

  • Teachers with an awareness of ADHD: teachers should have knowledge of ADHD in adolescents. This should not be limited to an understanding of the symptoms but focus on the strengths of ADHD students too.
  • Needs orientation: teachers should be willing to develop special learning plans and offer flexible teaching practices suitable for young people with ADHD.
  • Willingness to cooperate: teachers should be open to close cooperation with parents. Regular discussions and updates about the progress and challenges of pupils are important for effective support.
  • Support programme: support programmes are important to meet the needs of those affected by ADHD. These include additional learning aids and social support.

Important: before changing school, it is worth obtaining a clinical diagnosis and looking into any specialist educational measures. Ideally, these specialist educational measures should be implemented in a mainstream school. Changing school may be a drastic change for your child and should generally only happen where other measures have been unsuccessful.

ADHD in adolescents: how is it treated?

There is a wide range of treatment options for ADHD in puberty. One key approach is behaviour therapy for young people with ADHD: it helps those affected to better control their impulses, to improve their attention span and to develop effective everyday coping strategies. Here, therapists use therapy tools and exercises for juvenile ADHD that can help those affected in their day-to-day lives. Since ADHD is often associated with depression in adolescence, it is important that therapists be mindful of this and adjust treatments accordingly.

Rehab programmes may also be effective if adolescent ADHD leads to greater limitations in everyday life. This approach offers extensive support and is often conceived on an interdisciplinary basis: it combines medical, psychological, and educational concepts.

Medications with the active ingredients methylphenidate, dexmethylphenidate, lisdexamfetamine and atomoxetine are also suitable for the treatment of ADHD. They alter the interaction of certain messenger substances in the brain and can improve ADHD symptoms.

ADHD in teenagers: what coping methods are there?

Adolescents suffering from ADHD need to be understood and accommodated daily – the same goes for their families.

Structure plays an important role here. A clear daily routine can help those affected to better concentrate on their tasks. Likewise, clear to-do lists with small, achievable goals offer a lot of support and provide motivation. Breaks to avoid becoming overwhelmed are just as important too. Ideally, sporting classes should feature regularly in their timetable. Exercise can help ADHD sufferers to get rid of excess energy. Endurance sports like jogging are healthy and can boost concentration. In addition to physical activity, mindfulness exercises can bring variation and relaxation in day to day life.

Parents should be patient and ready to listen. Try to talk to your child regularly and create a positive environment. See mistakes as part of the learning process and not as failure. Ultimately, young people have individual ways of coping with ADHD – so be open to different approaches and methods.

Read more

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