Signs of ADHD in Teens

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If you’ve noticed that your teenage child has difficulty paying attention, sitting still, or completing chores or schoolwork, you may wonder whether they’re just being a typical teenager or whether it’s something more serious, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

ADHD is a medical condition that affects the brain’s functioning and development. As a result, people who have ADHD may find it hard to focus, sit still, wait, listen well, or exercise self-control. Approximately 2.5% of adults and 8.4% of children have ADHD.

The signs of ADHD are classified into two categories:

  • Signs of inattention 
  • Signs of hyperactivity and impulsivity 

This article explores the signs of ADHD in teens, as well as the diagnostic criteria for the three types of ADHD.

Signs of Inattention

These are some of the symptoms of inattention you may notice in your teenage child:

  • Tendency to start tasks, such as chores, activities, or homework, and leave them incomplete
  • Trouble with tasks that require sustained attention, such as long classroom sessions, lengthy tests or homework assignments, or prolonged conversations
  • Poor attention to detail and careless mistakes in schoolwork and homework assignments
  • Tendency to get easily distracted by unrelated thoughts
  • Avoidance of tasks that require prolonged focus and mental effort
  • Lack of attention when being spoken to directly, difficulty following through on instructions, and needing lots of reminders to do things
  • Poor organization and time management skills, which can result in missed deadlines, difficulty with sequential tasks, and disordered belongings
  • Tendency to lose or misplace belongings, such as books, school supplies, spectacles, and mobile phones
  • Difficulty remembering chores, tasks, errands, and appointments

Signs of Hyperactivity and Impulsivity

These are some of the symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity a teenager with ADHD may display:

  • Feeling restless often
  • Moving around constantly, as if driven by a motor
  • Squirming or fidgeting while seated
  • Standing, pacing, or moving around at times when they’re supposed to stay seated, in class for instance
  • Being unable to work or participate in hobbies or activities quietly
  • Talking constantly
  • Interrupting others who are speaking, finishing their sentences, or answering questions before they are answered
  • Being impatient and having difficulty standing in line or waiting their turn
  • Intruding or butting in on others’ conversations, activities, or games

Childhood vs. Teenage ADHD Symptoms

ADHD is a developmental disorder, which means children have it from a very young age. If you suspect your teenage child has ADHD, you may look back and realize that they’ve had many of these symptoms since they were a child.

However, the symptoms of ADHD may change over time as the child gets older. For instance, the symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity are often more prominent in young children, but they may become less severe as the child grows up. So, for instance, your teenage child may no longer be constantly running around and climbing things, but may still experience extreme restlessness.

On the other hand, the symptoms of inattention become more evident in teenagers, as they face more rigorous schoolwork. These symptoms can affect their academic performance, relationships, and ability to function on a day-to-day basis.

You may also notice that your child is engaging in risky, impulsive behaviors such as unsafe sexual activity and substance abuse.

For some teenagers, the symptoms of ADHD become less severe with time. However, for many, they persist into adulthood.

Diagnostic Criteria for ADHD in Teens

If you suspect your teenage child has ADHD, you should take them to see their pediatrician, family doctor, or a mental healthcare provider such as a therapist or psychiatrist.

The healthcare provider will talk to you and your child about their behavior, thoughts, and health. They may ask you permission to talk to people who interact with the child frequently, such as family members or teachers, or give you checklists to be filled out. They may ask you about the child’s medical history and administer tests that check your child’s cognitive abilities. 

In addition, the healthcare provider may perform a health checkup to rule out other health conditions.

The healthcare provider will determine whether your child’s symptoms meet the criteria listed for ADHD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Published by the American Psychiatric Association, the manual helps healthcare providers identify mental health conditions such as ADHD.

These are the diagnostic criteria listed for ADHD in the DSM-5:

  • The teenager is below the age of 17 and has six or more symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity. Or, the teenager is 17 or above and has five or more symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity.
  • The symptoms are persistent and have been present for over six months.
  • They have had the symptoms since before the age of 12.
  • They experience the symptoms in two or more settings, such as their home, school, while doing activities, or in social settings while interacting with friends or relatives.
  • Their symptoms interfere with their ability to function on a daily basis and affect their academic performance, relationships, and quality of life.
  • The symptoms are not caused by another mental health condition such as an anxiety disorder, mood disorder, personality disorder, or psychotic disorder. 

Subtypes of ADHD

Depending on your child’s symptoms, they may be diagnosed with one of the three types of ADHD:

  • Predominantly inattentive ADHD: They have had enough symptoms of inattention to meet the diagnostic criteria, but not enough symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity over the last six months.
  • Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive ADHD: They have had enough symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity to meet the diagnostic criteria, but not enough symptoms of inattention over the last six months.
  • Combined type ADHD: Combined type ADHD is when the child has had enough symptoms of inattention as well as hyperactivity and impulsivity over the last six months.

If you’ve noticed that your teenager’s symptoms have changed over time, the type of ADHD they have may have changed over time too.

Complications

Teenagers with ADHD sometimes also have other mental health conditions such as:

Your child’s healthcare provider may be able to treat these conditions, if any, along with their ADHD.

A Word From Verywell

ADHD can affect your child’s schoolwork, as well as their interactions with family and friends. Being aware of the signs of ADHD in teens can help you recognize whether your teenage child might have ADHD, so you can take steps to get them the treatment they need. Treatment can help reduce the symptoms and improve their quality of life.

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5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  5. National Health Service. ADHD symptoms.

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