What is ADHD?

When someone is diagnosed with ADHD, the healthcare provider will ask about his or her family history of mental health problems. The healthcare provider will also review school records and questionnaires filled out by teachers, parents and caretakers. The healthcare provider will also rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms, like learning disabilities. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition Text Revision (DSM-5) provides guidelines providers use to diagnose ADHD. To receive a diagnosis, a person must show at least five of the nine criteria for either the inattentive or hyperactive/impulsive type. The healthcare provider may suggest medication or other treatments to help manage ADHD symptoms.

Stimulants are the first medications most people with ADHD try. These medicines can be a help to some, but everyone reacts differently to different medicines and doses. It takes time for the doctor to find the right medicine and dose that works best for a person with ADHD. In addition to trying out a variety of different medicines, the doctor might suggest cognitive behavior therapy or other treatments that can help manage symptoms of ADHD.

For example, one form of cognitive behavioral therapy is narrative therapy, in which a person with ADHD examines his or her negative self-talk and replaces it with positive self-beliefs. In one study9, narrative therapy increased the academic performance of young girls with ADHD, as well as decreased their internalized stigma about themselves.

In addition to cognitive behavioral therapies, the teen with ADHD might benefit from mindfulness meditation and relaxation techniques, which help to regulate the brain’s dopamine system. The dopamine system controls how much energy a person expends and how he or she relates to other people. When a person with ADHD is feeling low in dopamine, he or she might seek out risky behaviors to make him or her feel better. If a girl with ADHD knocks over the waffle cone display at the ice cream shop while sampling all ten flavors, it’s probably because she needs to raise her dopamine levels, and the only way to do that is to do something risky.

Regardless of the treatment option, it’s important for a teen with ADHD to get enough sleep and exercise and eat healthy foods. The teen will also need to avoid tobacco and drugs, which can make ADHD symptoms worse. The teen will also need to work with an experienced therapist to learn how to manage stressors and cope with difficult situations. Lastly, the teen with ADHD will need to make sure his or her family members are aware of his or her condition and support his or her efforts to control ADHD symptoms. Ultimately, the teen will need to commit to his or her own treatment plan. If the commitment is consistent, the teen will be more likely to succeed in school and in life.

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