ADHD in Adolescence

Happy Learners Banner



It must be noted that ADHD does not happen in isolation and that the adolescent will have many other social and environmental factors that influence and shape their behaviour. Equally adolescence is a challenging time for all young men and women as they try to deal with puberty, increasingly complex peer group pressures and the cognitive demands of schools and colleges. What is certain is that individuals with ADHD are much more likely to experience significant difficulties coping during this challenging period of their lives.

Bullet Break

School and College

Some ADHD children, mainly with the inattentive type and especially girls, arrive at secondary school having managed to go through primary school without a formal diagnosis. Or if they are diagnosed it hasn't been flagged as significantly affecting their learning by the primary school. Very quickly the increased demands of secondary school change this and their ADHD traits become much more apparent. This can include the following:

Difficulties understanding their timetable and where and when they need to be. Many ADHD individuals struggle with time concepts and time keeping.
Forgetting books, kit etc. for lessons. Many individuals have poor planning and organisation skills and are more prone to forgetting things they need than peers. Equally, ADHD students are also more likely to come from households where their parents are less organised due to an increased likelihood of parents also having ADHD traits.
Poor working memory. ADHD is associated with working memory difficulties that are increasingly strained by the complexity of technical language used both verbally and in reading materials. Also the requirements of individual learning tasks frequently involve the temporary remembering of instructions and cognitive products that are easily forgotten by ADHD students. Use of visual prompts is essential for supporting these students.
ADHD students can struggle with the length of lessons both in terms of maintaining their concentration, which they find cognitively tiring to do so, but also in suppressing a need to be physically moving. ADHD is associated with sensory needs. Many ADHD students, particulary those with impulsive and hyperactivity traits may have particular problems with their vestibular and proprioceptive systems and require continual movement in order to orient themselves in space. Small body movements and/or fidgetting is often essential when sitting for long periods and more so when the student is cognitively focussed on their learning.
Some ADHD students will have difficulty regulating their emotions and may quickly anger and react when things go wrong in lessons. They may be more likely to engage in an argument with teachers, particularly if they sense an injustice; such as being told off for talking when other students were also chatting.

Bullet Break

ADHD can also make it difficult for the student to maintain a positive status amongst their peers. Academic difficulties can make ADHD individuals feel 'inadequate', 'stupid', a 'loser' and 'not as good' as their peers. They may be the subject of 'jokes' and 'jibes' about their learning competence that further undermines their social confidence with peers. They may also look foolish in front of peers when they are disorganised and forgetful. Sometimes teachers may deliberately or unwittingly embarrass ADHD students by publicly highlighting their poor organisation, lack of time management or any other unpreparedness for lessons. Again doing this in front of their peers chips away at their confidence.

ADHD students tend to develop poor learning resilience. To protect themselves from the poor self-esteem associated with educational failure some ADHD individuals will opt out of learning tasks. This strategy means they can no longer 'fail' because they didn't try. By doing so they avoid the continual 'knocks' that they might otherwise receive. This highly destructive mindset develops over time, particularly in educational environments where inadequate provision is made for their needs. Once this mindset is established it is extremely difficult to change and help them develop better learning resilience.

In spite of difficulties at secondary school some ADHD students often begin to flourish when they attend college, particularly as they often choose vocational courses with more direct interest for the individual and less academic demands. However, they still need a lot of support with organisation and planning, particularly with getting written assignments done. They may still struggle with enforced subjects on their course like maths and English.

Bullet Break

Self-Harm and Suicide

Self-harm behaviours are higher in children and adolescents with ADHD and may reflect the internal restlessness, frustration and anxiety experienced by many. It is important that staff in schools and colleges as well as parents at home are vigililant to this as self-harm can be a precursor to suicidal thoughts. There is strong evidence that both ADHD young men and women are more likely to commit suicide than those without the diagnosis. (Note, this increased risk must be put into context. Suicide is a very rare event. For example, UK suicide rate in 2017 was 10.1 in 100,000 or in other words only 0.011% of the population. Source: ONS accessed 30/09/18.) However any increased risk of ADHD individuals committing suicide is a cause for concern. It may reflect the tendency of some individuals to act out thoughts on impulse. Another risk factor is the increased chance of experimenting with drugs, alcohol and tobacco. ADHD adolescents in homes that already have social stresses such as single parents, low socio-economic status, poor living conditions and parental use of drugs, alcohol or tobacco will have increased risks of developing mental health issues.

Bullet Break

Bullet Break

You may also be interested in the following pages:

ADHD in Girls



Working Memory

Bullet Break