Skip to content

Diagnosis of ADHD in Teenagers

May 12, 2016

Symptom-based diagnosis of ADHD in teenagers

ADHD in teenagers is diagnosed on the basis of the presence or absence of ADHD symptoms in the teen. In some teens, signs and symptoms of ADHD are obvious, such as the teen having difficulties sitting still and fidgeting constantly, not completing homework tasks or assignment projects and not being easily distracted by his surroundings. In other teens, ADHD may be more difficult to diagnose if symptoms are subtle.

Caution: ADHD in teenagers may mimic symptoms of other disorders and in many cases, health care providers may require further evidence of ADHD (e.g. brain scan results) to arrive at an ADHD diagnosis in the teenager.

Diagnosis of ADHD in teenagers

For the purposes of DSM-IV TR, the following types of diagnoses may be made:

  • ADHD predominantly inattentive type
  • ADHD predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type
  • ADHD combined type
    • Teens with the combined type of ADHD will have both inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity symptoms.

In addition to the presence of the symptoms:

  • the symptoms must have been present before the age of 7 years;
  • impairment from the symptoms must be present in two or more settings, such as in school and at home;
  • clear evidence of clinically significant impairment of functioning by the teen in a social or school setting;
  • the symptoms are not caused by any other learning or development disorders such as mood disorder, personality disorder or autism.

Subtle signs of ADHD in teenagers

Teens without overt or obvious symptoms of ADHD may still be diagnosed with the disorder if they present with symptoms which are closer to that found in adults with ADHD:

  • chronic lateness and forgetfulness
  • anxiety and stress
  • low self-esteem
  • lack of organizational skills
  • difficulty controlling anger
  • impulsiveness
  • if the teen has a job, the teen may have issues in the workplace.

In order for the diagnosis of ADHD to take place, the teen must still have childhood-onset and persistent,  current symptoms.