Though millions of American children have been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD, some children do not receive a diagnosis until their teenage years, if ever. Kids with high intelligence may develop tricks to compensate for their ADHD symptoms in elementary school, but as their classwork and social life become more complex, they may forget to turn in work, struggle to maintain healthy friendships, and deal with mood or behavioral troubles. Learn what to look for when pinpointing a teenager needing an ADHD evaluation.
4 Signs of Undiagnosed ADHD in Teens
Spotting ADHD in an adult or teenager outside of using an assessment like the Conners’ Adult ADHD Rating Scales (CAARS) is not always easy. Consider the following signs when determining the need for evaluation.
1. Unfulfilled Academic Potential
There are many reasons why a teenager may not live up to their academic potential. Boredom, interest in their social life, or anxiety may make a teen resistant to a classroom environment. Although true even for children without ADHD, it is another reason why a usually bright or “promising” student may suddenly begin to fall behind when entering middle or high school.
At this point in a teenager’s school career, assignments become more complex, and there is an expectation for students to remember deadlines, manage their own time, and they must switch classrooms several times a day. These new rules can be dizzying for a teen with ADHD who is used to being reminded of homework and staying in homeroom for most of the day. Early evaluation of a student with an assessment like the Conners, Third Edition (Conners 3) is imperative to their success.
2. Trouble Making or Keeping Friends
Teens with ADHD can exhibit fun, liveliness, and impulsivity in class, or they may be on the opposite side of the spectrum and appear anxious and withdrawn. While no one personality type accompanies ADHD, the symptoms of undiagnosed ADHD may interfere with their ability to make and maintain friendships.
Teenage friendships are far more complex than childhood friendships. Undiagnosed ADHD may not be a problem or even apparent until a child enters their teenage years and start to struggle socially. For example, an undiagnosed girl with ADHD may have had a large social circle in elementary school but experience difficulty with interrupting friends, following appropriate social rules, or paying attention emotions of their peers as a teenager.
3. Depression or Anxiety
ADHD symptoms are frequently associated with mood conditions in both children and adults. Teens often receive a diagnosis of major depression or clinical anxiety before undergoing an ADHD assessment. Others struggle with depression and anxiety symptoms without a diagnosis.
While anxiety and depression can exist alongside an ADHD diagnosis, ADHD symptoms can also exacerbate anxiety and depression.
4. Another Diagnosed Disorder
As many as 45% of children with ADHD have a comorbid diagnosis of a learning disorder. Additionally, many teens with ADHD may have other diagnoses like autism, dyslexia, conduct disorder, or oppositional defiant disorder. It’s important to consider that ADHD symptoms may be contributing to, or causing, troubling behavior in school if the teen is diagnosed with a frequently comorbid condition.
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If you know a teenager struggling to keep up with schoolwork or showing other potential signs of ADHD, a thorough evaluation is crucial. Undiagnosed ADHD can lead to workplace and interpersonal problems later in life.