Understanding Your Teen’s ADHD Diagnosis

According to my records, I’ve written 129 weekly newsletters since August of 2020. That might not mean much so let me explain this as if I were your teen and these newsletters are my homework.

It’s 8pm and I’m just starting even though I know it’s due every week by 3am Tuesday.

Why did I procrastinate and leave it to the last minute?

I didn’t. I tried starting multiple times today but nothing came out even though I know what I want to say. I also had many smaller tasks that needed my attention and started to feel overwhelmed. Doing the smaller tasks was at least doing something even if it wasn’t writing this, the one task due today.

I love the finished product and providing value for you just like your teen would love to get great grades and hear your accolades by getting all their assignments in on time. However, getting my thoughts out on the keyboard (paper), feels frustrating and tortuous to the point of tears on many occasions.

Now I’ve started writing, it’s not coming out the way I wanted and I feel more frustrated. My frustration and anxiety are building as the clock ticks on so overwhelm builds and I’m more easily distracted (texting a few people and checking Instagram).

Put your #$%^& phone away!

I just did. This isn’t about my phone or paying attention. I’m sitting in a silent room and I’m still struggling to write this my brain gets tired and I’m realizing I’ll be more tired the longer this goes on so my stress projects into tomorrow.

“It’s not that hard!”

Writing a newsletter used to take me 6-8 hours of painful sitting in front of a screen (that’s almost 1 workday out of 5, 20% of my time!). When I’d tell people how long I was spending they’d laugh and tell me how easy it would be if I just ‘followed their process’, as if they understand my brain and what works for me.

Me: “I’m a spoken word person and writing hurts my head.”

Them: “Just use the voice to text feature! (as if I didn’t know it existed). You’re making this so much harder than it needs to be.”

Me: quietly feeling misunderstood and unsupported

I want to have this written on a Friday so I don’t start my week under this timeline, but I’ve only managed that about 5 times in over 2 years. This isn’t about a lack of forethought, poor planning, being lazy, or only wanting to do the fun stuff.

Have you thought those things about your teen?

If you don’t have ADHD, understanding your teen’s behaviour, or their lack of response to your well-meaning chiding, prodding, nagging, and even shaming, may lead you to those derogatory labels. Their hurtful, not helpful.

Last month I was diagnosed with ADHD and here’s what some professionals aren’t telling you.

  • The harder an ADHD brain tries to concentrate, the less blood flow there is in the area needed for concentration (the cerebellum, which also holds half the neurons in your body).

 

Below is a heat map of a normal adult female brain under concentration (imagine the camera is looking up from under your chin and the top of the picture is your forehead). Notice the high blood flow in cerebellum at the base of the brain

Below is a picture of my brain when I try to concentrate. Notice the lack of blow flow in my cerebellum and increased blood flow in my emotional brain? The harder I try the worse it gets and that doesn’t make me lazy or stupid, nor is it an indication of my intelligence. It’s frustrating and annoying AF!!

1) The Cerebellum is responsible for:

  • emotion regulation
  • inhibiting impulsive decision making
  • attention
  • working memory
  • motivation

2) Your teen likes what feels fun because they have more blood flow available in key parts of their brain. Doing short spurts of work rather than long periods of focus often works better. They’re not irresponsible.

3) Some days I’m super productive and hyper focused with great enthusiasm, but I have no control over when that happens, and my brain doesn’t care if one of my ‘good days’ falls on a weekend. That doesn’t mean I’m entitled or avoiding hard work. If your teen could get their brain to focus when they needed to, they’d have already done it.

4) The ADHD brain struggles with task initiation or getting started. This can look like procrastination or avoidance which are made worse with anxiety and overwhelm, both common for ADHD.

5) Your teen can play video games for hours though, so they really ARE lazy. No. Video games increase dopamine which is required for pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation so of course they feel better playing them than trying to concentrate on homework.

6) ADHD brains are easily distracted and struggle with planning (time). Yes, I knew this newsletter was due for a week but here I am at almost 11pm writing it because I do better under pressure. After 2 years I’ve gotten much better and write a full newsletter in 2-3 hours, finishing by 5pm. Today is now the exception and not the norm.

What can you do to support your teen?

After 3 weeks of new supplements my brain feels better than I have since I was a child. It’s like someone turned down the volume on my frantic anxiety from a 10 to a 3 or 4 so I feel much calmer. I’m sleeping better and can concentrate for long periods of time without being distracted or needing to take a break. It’s hard to believe this is normal for many people!

Ironic that today seems to be a struggle for some reason, only the 2nd day in 3 weeks this has happened. Beating myself up won’t help, I’m doing the best I can.

Please seek a medical professional for any diagnosis or treatment options, don’t use Dr. Google. Balancing an ADHD brain can take many tries to find the right combination of supplements/medication, and some have side effects like depression. Your teen needs you to advocate for them with professionals to balance their brain and not settle for ‘good enough’.

Please read Healing ADD by Dr. Daniel Amen and watch this YouTube series by Dr. Russell Barkley on the ADHD brain. The more you know, the more compassion and understanding you’ll have for your teen while avoiding the frustration that leads to hurtful labels and disconnection.

ADHD doesn’t define or limit your teen. Stay tuned and I’ll be sharing more of my experience and how to parent through ADHD.