Though ADHD is actually a neurobehavioral developmental disorder, by the time most sufferers reach adolescence they’ve internalized negative messages they’ve heard – directly or indirectly – from frustrated teachers, parents, and peers. Some believe that they must be lazy, “bad,” stupid, or socially unattractive. As a result, it is not uncommon for adolescents suffering with ADHD to spiral into depression and/or anxiety. This complicates the disorder and compounds the young person’s suffering. Fortunately, ADHD is one of the most studied learning disabilities and there are several effective treatment options available. Most experts agree that a multi-modal approach – i.e. one that integrates a number of treatment methods – is most effective. Following is a sampling of ADHD treatment options to consider as you construct a multi-modal treatment and management plan for your child.
Classroom accommodations are very helpful for teens with ADHD, but teachers do not always know about or implement these accommodations. Accommodations, therefore, are most effective when the young person learns to advocate for them herself. Accommodations can include anything from sitting at the front of the classroom near the teacher, taking extra time on exams, having a note-taking partner, or having access to a quiet room for studying or test taking. A psychologist or special education teacher can help you create a list of classroom accommodations that fit the special needs of your child; a battery of psycho-educational testing can give these professionals the information they need to create a customized set of accommodations that match your child’s exact needs. While your advocacy for these accommodations is critical, it’s equally important to teach your child about these accommodations and encourage her to request them herself. This self advocacy can transfer to other environments such as college or work.
For many adolescents with ADHD, a few simple tools can go a long way. A large, simply formatted planner, a notebook, and a daily checklist are great tools parents and teachers can use collaboratively to coach a young person toward more effective self-management. Maintaining a set routine for everything from packing one’s backpack before school to checking homework assignments with the teacher before going home can be complemented with a few simple organizational tools. By offering regular coaching and keeping these tools simple and consistent, you can help your child develop highly functional lifelong habits.
Stimulant medication has been proven effective in managing the symptoms of ADHD, and can lead to better school, home, and relational functioning. While the most familiar medication for ADHD is Ritalin, several other stimulant treatments are available. Your family physician, psycho-pharmacologist, or psychiatrist can help identify the best medication option for your child. It is important to remember that every person reacts differently to medication, so the ability to observe your child (directly or second hand through trained professionals) when adjusting medications is critical for determining safety and efficacy. Talk to your child about how medication makes her feel, and factor this input into treatment decisions. Remember that many ADHD medications are narcotics that can be abused. Monitoring your child’s use of these medications is important for preventing abuse.
Sometimes, the combination of ADHD and accompanying emotional struggles can be too much to manage at home. In these cases, a residential setting, such as boarding school with a learning-disabilities and/or therapeutic focus, can be extremely helpful. Because of the 24/7 support from an integrated staff of teachers, therapists, milieu counselors, and psychiatric staff, a therapeutic boarding school can provide the ultimate in multi-modal treatment. Since residential options range from special education boarding schools to therapeutic boarding schools to residential treatment centers, the services of a placement professional are recommended if you are considering this option.
Psychotherapy can help an adolescent with ADHD deal with the emotional dimensions of the disorder. Depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem are the most common co-morbid conditions accompanying ADHD. Look for a therapist who is familiar with ADHD, experienced working with teens, and knowledgeable about family systems therapies. Because the whole family can be profoundly impacted by one child’s ADHD behaviors, it is advisable in many cases for parents to seek support not only for their child, but for themselves and/or the whole family.
The effectiveness of behavioral and psychosocial therapies – especially behavior modification therapy – is well documented. Behavior modification is the use of a highly structured system of rewards and consequences to teach new ways of navigating tasks and relationships. This approach is most effective when the adolescent’s teachers and parents employ a coordinated plan so that new behaviors are reinforced in all settings. A behavior-modification system can be created and managed by parents, educators, and mental health professionals but must be consistently implemented in order to be effective.