You have trouble sitting still in class. It’s hard for you to do homework, study, read, or pay attention for long periods of time. When you have a long conversation with someone, you zone out.
So, do you have ADHD—attention deficit hyperactivity disorder?
First of all, it’s important to consider environmental or lifestyle issues. Before you suspect ADHD (or ADD, as it used to be known), make sure you rule out all other possible factors that could contribute to your lack of organization or attention.
For example, when you try to focus, are you working in a distraction-free zone? Are you getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and getting enough exercise? Do you wear a watch, so you can try to be more on time to important events? When you work on an important project, it’s best to put away your phone, block yourself from accessing social media sites, and make a plan for finishing the material. When in class, take notes to keep yourself actively engaged. And when you’re trying to listen to someone else, try to keep eye contact and remind yourself to actively listen to what they’re saying—instead of what you want to say.
If you always attempt all of these things—unsuccessfully—and still find yourself constantly inattentive, restless, or fidgety, you may have ADHD. ADHD is one of the most common mental health conditions affecting children. According to the CDC, approximately 3.3 million adolescents ages 12-17 were diagnosed with ADHD in 2016. And in that year alone, almost 10% of all children in America had ADHD.
Do I Have ADHD? Symptoms
The following are the symptoms of ADHD. If you have most of the following symptoms, you may fit the criteria for an ADHD diagnosis.
- Difficulty concentrating or staying focused for very long
- Frequent daydreaming
- Very easily distracted
- Often losing/misplacing objects
- Difficulty getting and staying organized
- Dislikes/avoids doing tasks (like homework) that require focus
- Lack of attention to detail (lots of careless mistakes)
- Difficulty following instructions
- Difficulty finishing tasks
- Frequently procrastinating
Hyperactivity and impulsivity (less in teens with ADHD, more in children):
- Frequently fidgeting
- Difficulty sitting quietly or still for more than a few minutes
- Overly talkative; Frequently interrupts in conversations
- High energy levels / “hyper” behavior
- Intruding upon others’ activities or conversations
- Impatient; can’t handle having to wait
- Impulsive; acting without thinking about potential consequences
- Gets bored very easily / requires constant stimulation
If you also have poor grades, have issues with substance abuse, or are fighting depression, anxiety, conduct disorder, or oppositional defiant disorder, there’s a higher chance you have ADHD too. Also, keep in mind that teens with ADHD have a 4 times greater risk of attempting suicide than their non-ADHD peers. If you are considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
I think I have ADHD. Now What?
If you think you have ADHD, you’re not alone: More than 3 million other adolescents have ADHD too (CDC, 2016 report)!
The first step is to talk to someone, preferably your parents. Let them know your concerns. Your parents might take you to a mental health professional like a therapist or child and adolescent psychologist to determine whether you do in fact have ADHD.
There are also resources at school that can help you. You can talk to your school counselor or school psychologist confidentially about your concerns. They are usually equipped to provide ADHD assessments and other diagnostic testing. If they do find that you have ADHD—or perhaps another learning difference—you can receive specialized education plans (like IEP or 504 Plans). These include special accommodations for homework, testing, time spent in class, and more. For example, your teacher might let you take tests orally, rather than on paper. You might be able to get more time to complete reports or exams. Your teacher might let you leave class to take a walk when you feel like you can’t sit still anymore. These modifications will help you better manage, and hopefully succeed in, school.
What Helps ADHD?
In addition to school support, whichever mental health professional who diagnoses you with ADHD might also recommend other treatment. Although there is, as of this writing, no cure for ADHD, mental health professionals usually recommend a combination of behavior therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes.
Individual and Family Therapy – Behavior modification techniques, or behavior therapy, may help those with ADHD learn how to better manage their symptoms. Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Cognitive Behavior Therapy have seen rates of treatment success for ADHD symptoms, particularly when it’s a dual diagnosis with ODD, conduct disorder, or other mental health issues. Family therapy also helps everyone learn how to support the child with ADHD and communicate more effectively while still respecting each member of the family.
Medication: You may need medication in conjunction with therapy to help control some of the negative symptoms of ADHD. Both stimulants (e.g. Ritalin) and non-stimulants (e.g. Strattera) can help you become more focused and clear-headed. However, these drugs do come with side effects, so you should be very cautious in taking them. They should only be taken as prescribed by your doctor. Never, ever take medication prescribed to someone else.
NOTE: ADHD medication should only be taken by the person they are prescribed to, and only as directed. Never take more medication than prescribed, and never take ADHD medication prescribed to someone else.
Mental Health Treatment Center: If your ADHD is severely impairing your home, school and social life (which is more likely if you have other mental health issues like depression or anxiety), you might need a teen mental health treatment center. If you are also struggling with substance abuse, a drug rehab program might be appropriate. Adolescents with ADHD are more likely than their peers to have an addiction problem. Depending on the severity of your ADHD, you might need intensive outpatient treatment (IOP), partial hospitalization (PHP), or a residential treatment center (RTC).