ADHD Teenagers – How Can I Help My Teenager with ADHD?
HOW CAN I HELP MY TEENAGER WITH ADHD?
Not infrequently, young adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can have a string of bad luck while in high school. Usually it’s a little unexpected, as some good luck with good grades can happen for a period of time and then a series of forgotten assignments and misplaced reports result in poor grades.
High school can become more and more difficult for teens, especially teens with a learning disorder. The student with ADHD can find it difficult to share with a study partner or lab partner when they seem incompatible in their work flow and pacing. The key areas of concern for teachers and parents are the student’s challenges including poor timeliness, lack of organization, and the inability to keep up with the necessary note taking.
As the student with ADHD gets older, people around them become gradually less tolerant of “childish behavior”. What seemed like inappropriate behavior for a five-year-old becomes ridiculous when seen in a teen and completely unacceptable in an adult. Adults reduce their help when they believe the teen’s problem is poor behavior. Resentment grows. Adolescent students with ADHD find that their friends have little tolerance for any behavior that puts an added strain on their own lives.
At a time when the student with ADHD most needs help, it seems that everyone has exhausted their efforts to assist this teenager. What is needed is better understanding. Help helps, when they are younger. Understanding helps, when they are older.
When you keep helping, the adolescent unique learner ends up developing strategies that fit with the helper’s perspective. Usually that means fitting into the box that culture says is “normal”. Teens with ADHD are acutely aware of how hard it is to look and act like everyone else. If they could act “like normal people” they would have done so a long time ago.
A healthier approach involves understanding followed by the development of mutual strategies. We want the teen with ADHD to succeed in life skills. We want to help them develop strategies leading to independence in their academics, their leisure time and time with their relationships involving friends, family and coworkers. The strategies you develop with your teen, need to be individualized to your teen’s own circumstances. The problems identified and their solutions must be relevant to the teen.
Consider the Baker family, they worked together to understand their daughter’s behavior from her perspective. The Baker’s looked at ADHD symptoms as an interruption in their daughter’s ability to be at the same time and rhythm as the rest of the family. Through this perspective they realized that what daughter Olivia really needed, was to become aware of her use of time and space.
Olivia placed a push button kitchen timer in her backpack so she could anticipate the length of time it took for her to complete tasks. Olivia was also encouraged to place clocks throughout the house and to glance frequently at the clock to notice how much time day to day activities required. Meals, the morning shower, hygiene routines, and completing chores were all used as training materials for appreciating a sense of time.
Through the family’s understanding of Olivia’s challenges, they created this low stress use of clocks and timers to recognize her pace of doing. They were not timing her, judging her, or asking her to function at a different pace, they were providing an opportunity for her to see the patterns in her day to day activities.
Eventually, this concept of understanding her pace of doing became a life skill for Olivia. She still uses timers to stay on task as an adult mother herself. Olivia is able to advocate for herself at work. She is capable of letting her employer know in advance if her timeline on projects differs from others performing the same job. Just as in high school, the quality of her work remains excellent despite her very distinct pace of doing. She no longer feels the victim of ADHD symptoms. She prefers that she be understood for the positive attributes that she brings to work and to her own family and children.
Accepting, understanding and developing relevant strategies together with your teen with ADHD is the best way you can help. Perhaps try to reconsider the concept of helping your teen with ADHD to one of understanding and making space for the unique contributions of your young adult child.
SELF HELP FOR TEENS WITH ADHD
Teens with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) frequently have a very limited awareness of the fact they are out of step with the rhythm and pace of others. These teens wonder what their parents are trying to address when they say “slow down”. They tend to be unaware of the difference of their responses as compared to their peers.
The teen with ADHD is at a stage in their maturation, like all teens, of developing self‑awareness. Parents can channel this leap of self-awareness by promoting their teen’s awareness of their actions on others.
Research repeatedly indicates that change in behavior is easier to do when one understands what it is being changed. For parents, this revelation that their teen may be unaware of their hyper‑activeness is important for self-help strategies to be successful. “Slow down” is hard to act on if you don’t realize you’re going too fast.
Begin by focusing on improved self‑awareness in a limited setting. Perhaps begin by focusing on self‑awareness while at the dinner table or when involved in a planned family activity around the house, doing chores for example. Provide specific characteristics for the teen to become aware of. For example, a teen with ADHD needs to be aware of their signs suggesting a sense of restlessness prior to fatiguing and discontinuing a task. The restlessness needs to be identified as an important clue. Self-recognition of this clue is an important first step in making change.
ADHD teenagers should be encouraged to become aware of their pace of doing. When around family and friends, encourage politely and quickly scan around them to see if they are working at the same speed as their peers, family and friends. A “yes” or “no” response is all that is required initially. As a parent, you need to know that they are seeing the same behaviors as you.
Once your teen has developed some self-awareness in and around your home and close circle of friends, working within a less structured and more socially challenging settings would be of benefit. Ask your young adult child with ADHD to identify and characterize their movements as either faster, same pace, or more slowed down than their peers while in the cafeteria at school or when out in the community.
Once self-awareness in a variety of social settings is demonstrated, the “what to do about it” becomes much easier for your teen to solve for themselves.
The use of an elastic bracelet around the wrist can be helpful when gently stretching the elastic and allowing it to snap against the wrist. Research tells us that a quick change in reference point, a sudden physical action, serves to awaken the mind and to initiate a change in thinking.
When wearing the elastic bracelet, the elasticity can be stretched to cause a rebound snap. The sudden snap of the elastic bracelet is a private experience to awaken a shift in thinking. Following the “snap” with taking a few deep breaths, can allow the teen with ADHD to think more clearly.
In reality, what is occurring as your child takes these few breaths is that the chemical component of the fight and flight stress response has time to dissipate. After 3 slow, deep breaths, the cascade of stress-related hormones cease production throughout the brain and the organs and especially the tummy.
Deep breathing, visualizing a calm forest or ocean scene, softly allowing the fingers to repeatedly circle the thumb pad all serve to reboot the brain chemistry and allow clarity in thinking. When less emotionally charged intelligence, memory and practical experience allows better decision making to occur.
NON PRESCRIPTION HELP FOR ADHD
You are probably familiar with the “deer in the headlights” phrase. It suggests that the oncoming lights and sounds of an automobile are so stressful for the deer that it freezes. It has trouble responding correctly because of the acute stimulation.
You are also aware of the fight or flight response. In a situation that frightens us we have a built-in mechanism to confront the circumstance or run away.
This fight or flight freeze response adds a crucial dimension to how your teen with attention deficit disorder (ADHD) is likely to react when the situation confronting them overwhelms their coping capacities and leaves them paralyzed in confusion and even fear.
Because a teen with ADHD often experiences and interprets sensory input intensely, it is vital that parents and teachers understand how this impacts learning.
The sensory input can be anything from a noisy and chaotic classroom to the note of irritation or anger in a parent’s voice. The input creates emotional stress in the teenager’s brain and body. While the teen’s body doesn’t necessarily freeze, his or her thinking can easily become locked up which diminishes the ability to think.
Emotional stress affects the teen with ADHD in their ability to learn and retain skills. A learning challenged child or adult becomes far less functional when under stress.
Emotional states and feelings affect the actions of the brain, the functions of the body, its hormone balance, the immune function, and even interpersonal relationships. When a teen is experiencing stressful emotions, they operate with less coherence. They are unable to regulate and modulate the brain under stress.
Experts who work with the children and adult population of unique learners know that the heart is the brain behind the brain. Scientific research continues to demonstrate the ability of the heart to control hormone and peptide release that promotes brain functioning. When the heart is content, the brain works better. When the heart is content, brain and body feedback become more precise and provides an optimum condition for learning.
HOW TO HELP SOMEONE WITH ADHD DE-STRESS
Research indicates that all the cells in the brain, body, and immune system communicate with each other by “messenger” molecules called peptides. The research suggests that how we think about ourselves, affects ourselves.
Peptides assist cellular communication through the brain and the body. Some peptides seem to hold biochemical information for various emotions. When you are sad, one type of peptide will be in your bloodstream, and when you are happy a different peptide will be present.
It would seem that our mind is in every cell of our body. Peptides have been found in the immune system, indicating a relationship between our emotions and our health. In short, when your heart is engaged, your brain is engaged.
As an example of how heart involvement impacts learning, let us consider the following scenario.
Imagine for a moment that you have won the lottery. Finally, a vacation! You begin performing math computations to determine whether you will participate in traveling plans to destination A or B based.
Similar mathematic computations are required when preparing your tax return. Imagine that it becomes obvious that you owe a great deal of money. Same complexity of math calculations, entirely different level of heart involvement.
Mathematics to complete your tax return may be seen as significantly more difficult and more stressful as compared to mathematical calculations when planning a spontaneous vacation with travel plans.
Math performance drops when stress increases. This means that specific strategies for parents to help their child reduce stress and build calmness and coherence may be more important than more math drills.
As parents, it becomes our goal to help our young and more mature children to manage mental and emotional stress successfully. When mental and emotional turmoil are managed successfully, increased coherence results. This improved mental coherence becomes an optimal state for learning, for accepting and understanding leading to improved mental and emotional functioning.
Here are a few non-prescription strategies that parents (and teachers) can use to help their teen with ADHD manage stress and improve coherence:
Movement, particularly walking, has been found to assist in “rebooting” stuck thinking. Walking provides just enough stimulation to help the subconscious work through jammed thoughts and behaviors.
2) The Nature Connection
Connecting with natural life processes and connecting with nature tends to stimulate right brain activity to promote balance between right and left mind functions. This could include walks in nature, sitting beside a river, or working in a garden.
3) Peace and Quiet
Individuals with ADHD have a need for quiet and contemplative spaces made available to them throughout each day. While a brisk walking does reduce stress, a walk meant to achieve this peace and quiet experience is probably more appropriately termed a “wander”. This would look like quietly and thoughtfully moving through a garden or nature park taking time to stop and observe the butterfly or notice the tiny flower blossoms.
Breathing exercises can be used when in locations that do not allow the teen with ADHD to physically remove themselves from the present circumstance. The imbalance of too much left-brain activity can allow child‑like tantrums and getting stuck on negative images and memories, as well as catastrophizing. Breathing exercises promote right and left brain balance. The left brain inappropriate actions tend to quiet and calm the mind.
This is a different approach to the classic “try-harder” method. Parents and teachers too often focus on just the negative behavior or the poor outcome. For the teen with ADHD, however, the negative behavior and negative performance is only symptoms of the underlying issue.
Stress is one of those factors that can really have a negative impact on a child’s ability to learn. So before you assume that your unique learner’s challenges are strictly due to lack of interest, laziness or dis-respect, do some detective work to see if there is an underlying issue, such as stress, that is complicating your child’s learning challenges.
Non-prescription help for ADHD requires a supportive team of friends and family around your teenager. Patience and understanding are essential for their growth and development as well as your own sense of peace. It takes courage to explore help with no medication. Keep your doctor aware of your plans, but never be afraid to accept good medical advice on this matter.
For additional information on ADHD, consider purchasing my book Unique Learner Solutions. Each chapter concludes with a “Strategies to Try” section that can be immediately implemented. Unique Learner Solutions is available through this website or Amazon.com! Click HERE to purchase!