Adolescents with ADHD

Adolescence: A time of change

Transitioning from childhood into adolescence can be a difficult time for anyone. Young teens are taking on more responsibilities and planning for their futures. Parents and teachers expect more from young teens who are looking to be more independent. It is during this time of transition when young teens may start to experience symptoms of ADHD that were not expressed in childhood.

Difficulties for teens with ADHD

As teens feel the pressure of new responsibilities, they may experience new ADHD symptoms, such as increased social anxiety, preoccupation with self-image, and experimentation with drugs and other high-risk behaviours.  These symptoms are not too different from those any teen would experience, but the intensity of the experience is more challenging for teens living with ADHD.

A lack of emotional self-regulation (the ability to manage and react before expressing emotions) can lead to more challenges for teens living with ADHD, such as overreaction, frustration, irritability, difficulty managing anger, or difficulty getting and staying motivated.

Symptoms of ADHD in adolescents

  • Inattention: It can be difficult to concentrate during a long conversation, in class, at a film, or during an exam. This symptom has a major impact on academic performance, because being distracted can often discourage a teenager from taking or focusing on a task. Often adolescents with ADHD avoid things that require prolonged mental effort.
  • Hyperactivity: Hyperactivity in adolescence can manifest as an inability to sit still for a long time, the drumming of fingers or toes, nail biting, playing with hair, or fiddling with a pen, which friends and classmates may find annoying.
  • Impulsivity: Adolescents with ADHD tend to meddle in other people’s conversations. They offend, encroach on people, or interrupt frequently. This results in them seeming “rude”.

Impact of symptoms of ADHD on the life of a teenager

  • Social-Skills Deficit: Management of social skills is essential for establishing satisfactory relationships with others. However, teens living with ADHD may have a hard time with this because of some of the core symptoms of ADHD, lack of empathy and assertiveness and difficulty in verbal and nonverbal communication.
  • Lack of Organisation and Planning: Teens with ADHD tend to forget plans and schedules and have difficulty managing the time needed to perform tasks. When they suffer from inattention, they may need more time to complete tasks and require more planning to reach their goals. They tend to leave everything to the last minute, avoiding tasks that require greater mental effort.
  • Difficulty Integrating into a Group: Teens with ADHD typically have a hard time making and keeping friends. Not being able to get along with others affects their ability to establish relationships with other teens. Not having many friends, or even a few good friends, can have negative consequences on their mood and self-esteem.
  • Mood Swings and IrritabilityAdolescence is already a difficult time of adjustment, to constant change, including changing hormones. Teens living with ADHD are highly sensitive to these changes, and many have an especially hard time adjusting. This leads to constant conflicts and confrontations with family, teachers, and friends. Teens living with ADHD can have difficulty managing anger and may get frustrated easily, which does not help with social acceptance.

Transitioning into adulthood


ADHD can affect people at work, where many of the structures and support they may have had at school do not exist. Here are suggestions for transitioning to the workforce:

  • Consider interests and key values —for example, helping others, getting recognition, making a lot of money, or meeting interesting people.
  • Know strengths and weaknesses, or take a test to assess them. A guidance counsellor at school or a social worker may have one available.
  • Use the career counselling centre and other job resources at school.
  • Practise organisational skills during the job search; use a calendar to record appointments and a simple system to store contact information.
  • When applying for a job, ask potential employers about the interview process.

Social activities

ADHD can sometimes make social situations challenging. You may sometimes blurt things out inappropriately or have trouble keeping up and focusing on conversations.

These tips may help you in social settings:

  • Wait before speaking. Before speaking or acting, pause for 10 seconds to make sure what you want to say or do is a good idea.
  • Practise “active listening”. Pay very close attention to what others are saying before you join the conversation.
  • Role-play. Ask your friends, therapist, ADHD coach, or teachers to help you practise conversation skills, including how to correctly ask questions.
  • Repeat to remember. Try repeating important information that someone shares with you to make sure you heard it correctly.
  • Practise one skill at a time. Working on one social skill at a time can allow you to master each one before moving on to the next.

Higher education

If you plan to attend university, be sure to prepare for entrance testing, school applications, and transitioning to this new life. Find out the testing requirements for your university of choice. Ask about the options you may have available to take the test, such as additional time, longer breaks, or the use of a computer or other tool.

Once you have been accepted, it is important to come prepared. University has much more responsibility than school, and often it is the first time you are not under the care of a parent or guardian.

Be sure to find the support you need. Many universities provide learning support, but offerings can vary widely. Check to see whether the university provides at a similar level of support to that you received in high school. Some examples of services and accommodations that may be available include early registration, extended time for testing, note takers, time-management assistance, subject-matter tutoring, or use of audio recorders. Find out more about the university’s learning-support offerings by contacting the Office of Student Disability Services. It may also be referred to as Student Support Services or Services to Students with Disabilities.

Scheduling courses

Consider working with an advisor to help you choose classes and develop a schedule. For example, if you are less alert in the morning, an advisor may suggest that you avoid classes meeting early in the day if possible.

Connecting with lecturers

Introducing yourself to lecturers and going to their office hours can show that you have an interest in the class and doing well. You can also ask lecturers to review assignments before turning them in and for suggestions on how to improve grades or earn extra credit.

Knowing your learning style

Observe and understand how you learn best, and work with it. If listening to spoken instructions works best for you, you may want to use an audio recorder to capture class lectures and take reading notes or join a study group where you and the other participants quiz one another aloud. If you are a visual learner, you may find that the use of diagrams and coloured highlighters can help you call out and remember key facts.

Using time-management tools and strategies

Weekly and daily planners can help you keep track of short-term and long-term schedules. Consider copying deadlines and test dates into a calendar or planner soon after receiving a course syllabus. Large assignments may be more easily completed when broken down into smaller parts with separate deadlines.