It’s Okay To Be

ADD/ADHD & Teenagers
By Judie Gade
B.A. (Psychology)


ADHD Consultant & Educator ©2001 - 2011

These formative years can be confusing at the best of times. Imagine how it would feel if no-one seemed to understand HOW you were thinking, your parents and teachers are saying “you CAN do better”, the other students at school pick on you for absolutely no reason, other than that you are YOU. On top of these stressors, you can’t concentrate on your school work, it takes you 10 times to read the one page before it sinks in, you do stupid things that you regret immediately after AND you are going through the “Puberty Blues” to top it off.

Welcome to the mind of an ADD/ADHD Teenager ...
There is a “sense” of being different amongst most ADD teens and their peers seem to sense it. Sometimes they can be quite brilliant in a particular area, such as sport, art, music, computer studies & science. They have the ability to totally focus on something that interests them, hyperfocusing, not stopping until they are satisfied they can do no better; they can be totally oblivious to what is going on around them in the process. ADHD kids can be perfectionists in their areas of interest. Many of our greatest discoveries have been by people exhibiting many ADD traits such as Albert Einstein & Thomas Edison ... even Colonel Sanders. Boys are more noticeable when they are ADHD & are, therefore, more easily diagnosed, as their behaviour is one of the first clues to put professionals on the right path to diagnosis. Girls, on the other hand, largely go undiagnosed. This could be due to the fact that girls are seen to be more compliant. Boys tend to be a flurry of activity, whilst girls, when they reach puberty, become more disorganised and more easily distracted, which can result in a lack of activity.

In many cases, females can be daydreamers, staring out the window in their own little world. Terms that may be used to describe them by peers may be spacey, ditzy, “blonde”, “off with the fairies” and airheads. Parents may describe them as not listening or ignoring them. Symptoms in boys and girls are not totally the same, although a few may overlap such as:          General untidiness - schoolbags, locker, at home, in their bedrooms (or an obsession with tidiness). They may be consistently late with assignments Constantly losing things such as homework Be easily distracted & have a brief attention span. They could find themselves regularly running late for school. Everything is done on a deadline, at the very last minute (consistent chronic procrastination). They have an unusual sense of fairness. Always have lots of excuses for things not getting done or lay the balme on someone else (they can play the victim really well!). Seem to not listen when spoken to at times In general, girls are not so obvious. The aggression & activity is not as pronounced as the boy’s; their hyper-activity can present itself in a very different way such as excessive talkativeness, although some may have the aggressive symptoms. Time exists in a different way to these kids. They need constant reminders and coping mechanisms such as diaries & watches with alarms. Peer support is important too with a friend or classmate that can help keep them on track. These kids find it hard to cope on their own, and need understanding friends & adults who can help them & boost their self esteem. When totally enthralled in something, time just slips away; they have trouble dragging themselves away from what they are doing. In fact it can feel really uncomfortable for them, mentally, to do so. Boys, if hyperactive, may appear loud, be risk takers, aggressive to peers, disruptive in class, constantly on the move (legs may move constantly). ADHD girls

can also exhibit these symptoms. Girls who are hyperactive tend to be incessant talkers, having a mind like a butterfly that starts on one subject and then ending up talking about something completely different in the same sentence! They will constantly talk over the top of people, not letting the other person finish a sentence. This is of course, unintentional, as their brains don’t catch up to the action until after the event (i.e. Talk first – action -, realise they have butted in –brain catches up- SORRY!). You will find that at times their work submitted shows immense promise, even flashes of brilliance, and then they go back to being spacey, seemingly not paying attention, talking & acting inappropriately at times. With moments like these, they need help from a friend or teacher to help them realise, in a non-threatening & subtle way, that what they were doing was inappropriate. I get these teen's friends to come up with a fun code word…… like chocolate, WAZZUP, or as I did in an ADHD Teens Life Skills Class … JOTTA (the first Big Brother series in Australia, in 2001, was huge with these students, as they identified with a few of the housemates). Any word that is non-threatening and grabs their attention. If it is music they are into, use a band name for instance; nothing that is going to need much explaining. One word. When you, or their friend, see they are spacing out, going a bit “over the top” (OTT) or acting inappropriately, use the code word. Gently stand beside them, put your hand on their shoulder and say the word in their ear – and smile when they stop the action. This does not need to be said aloud. These children often see solutions to problems in a totally unique manner & should be encouraged & praised regularly. You never know, you may have a potential Einstein in your class or home… The dreamy type of ADD girl will tend to sit up the back of the class, & possibly the worst place to sit as she has the students in front to distract her and to hide behind so she can have a chat. The boys will do the same as it is also considered “cool” to sit there. To help a child pay attention, take away the distractions such as windows & being seated behind other students. Discuss this with the teen as they may think they are being singled out and ‘picked on’. Do this away from the class in a non-threatening environment.


Do not make an example of the child in front of their peers; instead have a word after class to help them solve their problem in a kind and caring manner. Teachers can be very frustrated by these kids, understandably, but have to deal with their frustration to obtain the attention of the child. They are after all the professionals – and human! There are still misconceptions with regards to ADD. Other children’s parents may frown upon their children mixing with these children. Other students may call them names, think they are stupid as they may not learn or absorb things as quickly. One of the problems here is that the child is not thinking of just one way to solve the problem, they may be thinking of various ways to do it. Often it is a filtering problem, sorting through the ideas to decide on just one. They find it hard to choose ONE as they can find credibility in ALL the solutions they are trying to sort through their overactive minds. Make no doubt about it … it is a gift and should be fostered. Instead of saying “pay attention”, ask them what they are thinking about. You just may get a surprise! Young ADDers are at risk to get picked on, not only by students but by teachers as well. If teachers are more aware of the differences that these children display, show more patience instead of “losing it” in the classroom, maybe a few more children will reach their full potential & there will be fewer children getting into risk taking behaviours or losing all hope. Sometimes this takes a little time as adults may have lost their trust and respect in the past. You have to earn their trust and respect. This is a focusing, neurological, biological issue. These teens learn in different ways to their peers because of these reasons. Some excel academically, their “natural brilliance” often clouding the fact that they have weaknesses in other areas such as organisation and/or social skills. If you are a teacher, doing courses & seminars outside of school hours to extend your skills is of the utmost importance. Learn how to get through to these students and you will have less disruption in the classroom and a loyal student - and less stress on yourself. Children with ADD/ADHD can work extremely well in a “one on one” relationship. Obviously this may not be possible, these days, due to government cutbacks in different countries. Often ADHD is not categorised as a disability.

However, if it is possible, these kids can blossom. Pairing them off with a willing student, who is doing well in the classroom, with an ADHD classmate in a class or two, could help with their social problems, as well as their academic ones. Having willing parents, not necessarily their own, to help these students in the classroom, or as part of a remedial programme as volunteers, in is another very viable option. **Police checks should be conducted on any adult in this type of situation.** Students with ADHD sometimes find it difficult to sit still. They are able to pay attention more easily if they are moving around. If you need to talk to these students and have them LISTEN to you, take them for a walk around the school (after school for 15 minutes or during a break). Do not yell at them, no matter how rebellious they are. These children respond extremely well to kind words and gentleness. If you start to yell, they will have a tendency to space out. They cannot help this and will need you to gently bring them back from ‘the zone’. The stress they are feeling at having to “see the teacher”, in the first place, only causes them to space out even more. Take the fear away, make them laugh and you will have a keen listener and a loyal student, even if a trying one at times. ADHD children are often secluded from their peers, have low self-esteem & feel like losers. On a social level they can be on the outer. Many do not have anyone at home to really talk about how they feel, as it is possible that one of the parents is undiagnosed themselves and struggling to cope with the ADHD child. As they grow up, undiagnosed ADDers are more prone to risk taking behaviour such as unprotected sex at an early age, shoplifting, drinking alcohol excessively, taking drugs & criminal behaviour. They can have very addictive personalities & can be extremely impulsive, saying and doing inappropriate things before they have a chance to think about their actions. Sometimes their addictive behaviour may be positive such as in sport, reading, a hobby or interest. Girls often get into craft activities or art and excel. Maybe they are obsessed with getting top marks in school? But one thing is for sure, many children are getting through the school system because they are not exhibiting the media conception of Attention Deficit Hyper-activity Disorder. Many are gifted academically and total perfectionists, yet socially they have problems. These


children are also more prone to co-morbidities such as depression and anxiety disorders and can be misdiagnosed. Becoming disheartened by their school performance, hyperactive students may throw themselves into social relationships to compensate. They may become the “clown” of the group to gain popularity, and with girls they may become a bit promiscuous to gain popularity. Sex also releases natural stimulants. Stimulants are the main form of medical treatment for ADHD, so in a way sex can be a form of self-medication, especially if they reach orgasm. It makes them feel more “in charge” of themselves and also improves their self-esteem. So, here we may have a girl, or boy, who has low self esteem (they may put on a front and ‘big-note’ themselves), they have someone taking an interest in them, even momentarily, and after sex (with orgasm) they may have a feeling of clearheadedness – such as they would get from stimulant therapy. The same applies to masturbation. Are they going to stop doing it? If anything, this may increase. They may also exercise excessively, another natural stimulant producer, and girls maybe more prone to eating disorders (anorexia nervosa, bulimia and compulsive eating/food addiction). If they have a natural ability in a sport, you may seem them obsess with their training. ADD/ADHD is mainly an inherited disorder. They do not get rid of it, or outgrow it, however they can learn to cope & live with it to their full advantage hopefully. The first step is school, where they are taught different ways to cope by informed and caring teachers. Learning about being ADHD helps kids to understand why they do the things they do. If they don’t understand, as I have frequently found, then how are they supposed to understand themselves and cope with circumstances they are placed in? Once out in the workforce, these teens must face employers that are not so forgiving or willing to help; their school safety net is gone. Their school teacher, parent, caregiver or mentor are their hope. Education is the key to finding a solution that works best – for parents, teacher and child.



Judie Gade

B.A. (Psychology)

ADHD Consultant & Life Skills Educator

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Mobile : 0410-402-404 │ International : +61410402404