How Can I Help My Teenager With ADHD?

by | Dec 3, 2019

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 welcomes help in that classical way, 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. For more ideas on children, teens and adults with ADHD consider purchasing my book, Unique Learner Solutions, available on this website and through Amazon.com.

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