What is ADD?
ADD, or attention-deficit disorder actually falls under the umbrella diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). ADD is a somewhat outdated term, but if it is used today, it is typically referring to the inattentive type of ADHD, or Inattentive ADHD.
Symptoms of ADD in Teenage Girls
Images of boys being impatient, loud, or climbing on things often come to mind for many when talking about attention-deficit issues in youth. Because attention-deficit disorders are frequently associated with males, girls with attention problems often fly under the radar. This means many females are not receiving the adequate treatment needed, and are suffering the long-term consequences of untreated attention-deficit problems.
While there are some shared ADHD symptoms amongst males and females, there are also many ways attention problems can uniquely manifest in adolescent and teenage girls.
- Appearing “spacey” or apathetic
- Poor reading comprehension – although retaining facts from something read may not be a problem, many adolescent and teenage girls with ADHD struggle to make connections between the ideas within the reading material. This can also affect how well written instructions are followed.
- Makes frequent, careless mistakes; poor attention to detail (can be most evident in terms of academic performance)
- Struggles to stay organized
- Loses things easily
- Chronically late
- Excessive talking – in class, at home, etc.
- Difficulty listening when spoken to – due to limited attention span
- Easily distracted – things such as household chores and homework end up taking far longer than they should.
- Frequently attempts to avoid, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained or long-term mental effort or focus
- Forgetful – forgetting necessary items (i.e. – lunch money, soccer shoes, etc.) or things related to daily schedule and/or activities
- Difficulty finishing tasks/assignments/activities
- Starts a lot of projects –but struggles to finish them
- Doesn’t appear to learn or “do different”, even when consequences are enforced
- Significant mood swings
Why ADD is Often Missed in Teenage Girls
The vast majority of teenage girls with ADD/ADHD are undiagnosed, or in many cases, misdiagnosed. This occurs for various reasons.
Teenage girls exhibit hyperactivity differently than teenage boys. While a teen boy may display symptoms of ADD through blurting out answers or constantly tapping his foot in a classroom, a teenage girl may demonstrate her ADD symptoms through incessantly talking.
Another reason ADD is often missed in teenage girls is that, as previously stated, females tend toward the inattentive-type of ADHD. Inattentive ADHD is associated with symptoms that tend to be less obvious and disruptive than those linked to the hyperactive-type of ADHD.
Challenges of Teenage Girls with ADD
The teenage years are already a difficult period for females, wrought with physical and hormonal changes. Yet, for teenage girls with ADD/ADHD, there are additional challenges that can make this period that much more difficult.
- Social pressures
- Low self-esteem – most females experience some level of self-doubt and low self-esteem during the adolescent and teenage years. Yet the specific challenges of teenage girls with ADD tend to exacerbate these feelings. Some of the common pressures or expectations put on teenage girls directly conflict with the symptoms of ADD (i.e. – teenage girls “should” be passive and/or controlled, neatly groomed and feminine, compliant with adults, and sensitive to the feelings of others.
- Maturity expectations – adolescence is a time when teens often experience a growing pressure from parents and teachers to “mature.” Yet this expectation towards maturity is a struggle for many teenage girls with ADD, as their neuro-cognitive patterns look different than the “typical” teenage girl.
- Sexual concerns – studies show teenage girls with ADD are at a higher risk for pregnancy than their peers without ADD. This is attributed to a few reasons – the low self-esteem inherent to teenage girls with ADD drives many to seek validation through sexual attention of others. This is a way many girls are able to compensate for feeling inadequate in other areas of life.
Causes of ADD in Teenage Girls
There is no consensus in terms of what causes ADD in adolescent or teenage girls (or anyone for that matter). Nonetheless, research suggests ADD/ADHD is genetic, but that other factors may contribute to the development of attention problems as well.
- Environment – certain studies have identified maternal behavior(s) when a child is in-utero may cause the development of attention problems. Some of these include cigarette smoking, alcohol use, and lead exposure.
- Brain chemistry – ADD/ADHD is thought to, in some cases, be due to an imbalance of brain neurotransmitters (the “messengers” of the brain).
- Nutrition – recently, much of the research surrounding ADD/ADHD in children and teens has been centered on the immense amount of additives in the foods youth eat today.
Treatment for ADD in Teenage Girls
There are many options when it comes to treating ADD/ADHD in adolescents and teenage girls. If you think your child may be suffering from attention problems, the first step is to have her assessed by a medical/mental health professional. Of course, the prevalence and severity of symptoms, psychological/medical history, and other factors, may affect the course of treatment. Nonetheless, there are common approaches when it comes to treating attention problems in teenage girls.
- Psychotherapy – teens with ADD/ADHD can benefit from psychotherapy through learning skills to decrease impulsivity and manage emotions. Psychotherapy can also target some problems associated with attention disorders, such as procrastination.
- Medication – many mental health professionals believe therapy alone to be an effective treatment for ADD/ADHD in teenagers. Yet, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, 80% of those who needed medication as children continue to need it in the adolescent and teenage years. Stimulant drugs are the most commonly prescribed medications
How You Can Help Support Your Teen
- Maintain realistic goals – there is no cure for ADD/ADHD. Thus, a realistic goal for your child is not to completely “recover” from her attention problems, but instead learn strategies and skills to cope with and intervene on difficult symptoms.
- Minimize guilt and fear – you did not choose for your child to have attention problems. It is not your (or anyone’s) fault. You are not guilty of giving her ADD. Feeling guilty or shameful will only affect your well-being, and in turn, your ability to support your child.
- Let her know mistakes are OK – natural consequences are a healthy way of learning from mistakes. Allowing your teenager to make mistakes and be accountable for those mistakes can help her learn responsibility.
- Pick your battles – know that everything is not necessarily worth fighting over. Be thoughtful about what you want to fight with your child about (as in, “don’t sweat the small stuff.”)
- Promote independence – encouraging and supporting your teenager in managing life’s responsibilities and acting independently is where she will gain more and more confidence and self-esteem.
If you have a child suffering with a severe case of attention deficit disorder, it’s important to find the right help, quickly. Polaris Teen Center provides specialized, psychiatric treatment of ADD and ADHD for teens and adolescents. For more information on how we can help your family, or to schedule a tour of the facility, please contact our admissions department or call 1-844-836-0222.