Teen Attention Deficit Disorder, What Is It?
Teen Attention Deficit Disorder is one type of ADHD. For sake of brevity, we’re going to only address ADD, while noting that there are two other types of ADHD, with varying symptoms. ADD is a brain disorder characterized by hyperactivity, difficulty paying attention, and difficulty controlling and/or correcting behaviors. These symptoms are due to brain development occurring slower than normal, though often still developing correctly. ADD is the most common brain disorder among children, and can continue into adolescence and adulthood. It’s also one of the most commonly misdiagnosed disorders.
What ADD Looks Like
Though all teens tend to show certain amounts of hyperactivity and inability to concentrate, teens with ADD are debilitated by these symptoms, causing them trouble in school and in relationships. Because the delays in brain development caused by ADD are related to planning, paying attention, and thinking, these disruptions extend to many different aspects of teens’ lives. In order to be diagnosed with ADD, the symptoms must be exhibited as extreme and last for a minimum of six months. Some of the behaviors and symptoms of ADD in teens might include:
- Being distracted overall, being unable concentrate or stay focused
- Becoming bored or disinterested quickly, jumping from one thing to the next
- Having difficulty keeping track of assignments
- Having difficulty remembering things
- Being disorganized overall
- Having difficulty completing tasks and/or remaining focused until completion
- Constantly moving or fidgeting
- Having difficulty recognizing appropriate times for behaviors or talking
- Having extreme difficulty with self control, in general
Beyond the general symptoms of ADD, there are two trends that are extremely prevalent and important to note: the first being, that teens with ADD are far more likely to develop substance abuse issues. And secondly, it’s very common for ADD to exist as a co-occurring disorder, especially along with Depression or Anxiety.
Because in some ways, ADD can be difficult to diagnose, or can often be overlooked as a behavioral or disciplinary issue, often teens begin abusing substances as a form of self-medicating, in order to gain relief from their symptoms. Some of the common substances teens will begin abusing are marijuana and alcohol, in an attempt to slow their minds or gain relief from the frustration by their inability to concentrate.
The stress and loss of self-esteem that teens with untreated and/or undiagnosed ADD can suffer is substantial. Symptoms almost always lead to difficulty in school, trouble forming and maintaining relationships, difficulty fitting in and/or feeling a part of peer groups, and therefore, feeling isolated. Overwhelmed with the feeling that there’s something wrong with them, teens turn to substances to help them loosen up and fit in, as well as feeling temporary relief from this isolation and low self worth. The pattern can become cyclical, as substance abuse can often worsen the symptoms- and effects- of ADD, over time. The longer the disorder goes untreated, the more severe symptoms can become and the more ingrained these behaviors and belief systems can become.
Because ADD so often exists as a co-occurring disorder, we provide thorough testing in order to accurately diagnose the disorder. After ADD is diagnosed, the most successful treatment tends to be a combination of medication and Talk Therapy, including behavioral therapy. If a teen has ADD as well as another disorder, such as Anxiety or Depression, they will receive treatment accordingly, in combination with the approaches described here.
The most common forms of medication for treating ADD are stimulants, such as methylphenidate and amphetamines. These medications activate areas of the brain that support focus and attention, which thereby helps decrease hyperactivity. There are also a number of other types of non-stimulant medications. Overall, ADD medications tend to be largely successful in helping teens increase focus and impulse control, while decreasing their racing, distracted thoughts.
With this being said, it’s always important to remember that treatment options work differently for different people, and some teens experience side effects from certain medications and/or find more relief from one medication than another. This is why parents should support their teens by being patient when beginning medication and understanding that it may take time, but eventually will provide relief.
At Paradigm Malibu, we incorporate a number of different approaches within the scope of Talk Therapy. First of all, therapists work with teens to help reform some of their most problematic and/or debilitating behaviors. For instance, therapists might work with teens regarding practical tasks, such as their organization skills, including ways to help them succeed in school. If the teens have difficulty remembering things (such as homework assignments and/or important dates), therapists might work with them to begin keeping a calendar or reminder system. Therapists will also work to help teens become more aware of themselves and their behaviors, so that teens can learn to speak and act with more self-control. Since sometimes ADD has significant effects on social interactions, therapists might also practice communication techniques with teens, helping them to listen, to not interrupt, to wait their turn, and to respond with control to others.
While implementing these behaviors, therapists also help teens identify negative and/or false belief systems that may have developed from the disruptions of their ADD. Therapists will help teens to recognize the thought patterns that create their low self-worth, and begin working to help restore self-confidence. With a combination of tangible behavior reform and improved belief systems, teens can begin feeling the control and power they’ve lacked for so long.
Is residential treatment necessary for a teen with ADD?
While residential treatment may not be necessary for a teen that only has ADD, it’s very important for teens with either substance abuse issues and/or mental disorders to be thoroughly checked for ADD as a co-occurring disorder. Because ADD puts teens at such a higher risk for substance abuse issues, it’s extremely common. Unfortunately, it’s also quite commonly misdiagnosed, causing kids to receive imprecise or possibly even improper treatment.