The teenage years are difficult enough without having more issue stacked on top of those of normal adolescence. Hyperactivity, one of three types (inattention type, hyperactivity-impulsivity type, and combined type) of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), is a chronic disorder present from childhood characterized by the sense that a person is constantly on the go in almost every aspect of life to the extent that these behaviors are maladaptive and interfere with occupational, school, and social functioning. Although this disorder doesn’t ever go away on its own, it can morph in subtle ways. Here is a look at the most common signs of hyperactivity and ADHD for teenagers.
ADHD in Adolescence
ADHD is a neurological disorder “marked by... hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development” according to the National Institute of Health. These behaviors may begin as early as age 3, but often are present in at least some way by age 7. Diagnostic criteria established by The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental DIsorders states that symptoms must be present before age 12. If these symptoms are just beginning in the teenage years, something else may be going on; there are health conditions and other psychiatric disorders that can mimic some symptoms of ADD/ADHD.
In addition to providing specific diagnostic criteria, the DSM also notes that at least 6 symptoms must be present for 6 or more months and before age 12 in children or teenagers under age 17, but only 5 must be present after age 17. Thus, the change of symptoms—just like other behaviors and personality traits—often begins to change in the teenage years, turning into the more adult form of ADHD. For example, while in children one of the symptoms appears as running amuck in inappropriate situations, in the teenage years this may present as a sense of constant restlessness rather than activity.
Children with ADHD often seem imbued with a sort of fearlessness, leading them to run, climb, and inevitably be inadvertently wounded in situations that aren’t appropriate. This may continue into adolescence but often turns into the aforementioned restless feelings instead. Other diagnostic criteria the DSM lists as potential symptoms of ADHD are difficulty sitting still—leading to constant fidgeting (like shaking the foot or tapping the fingers)— and trouble staying seated when it is expected (such as during a classroom lecture). Children tend to be extremely aggressive on the playground; this may continue into early adolescence, particularly if alternate behaviors aren’t encouraged through behavioral therapies.
Hyperactive teenagers will likely have a distaste for quiet activities (like reading a book), finding them difficult, boring, or simply avoiding them. They also tend to be extremely talkative, constantly chatting, with a tendency to interrupt conversations (or activities) of others and answering questions that haven’t been finished yet. It can be difficult for them to wait their turn, as exhibited in interruptive conversations, in activities and games as well. These symptoms are not uncommon, but, when ADHD is at the root of the issue, they are more extreme than normal and may make school, work, and social relationships exceedingly difficult. Because of this, teenagers with ADHD may seem slightly below average developmentally. It’s important to remember there is no “normal,” and these issues are not because the child isn’t smart—they simply have a different brain structure that tends to interfere with what is generally considered “normal.”