Looking back, I can see the signs of ADHD in my childhood self. But it wasn’t until I was in late middle school or early high school that I started to really become conscious of inattention and impulsivity as forces that were having a negative impact on my life.
Chalk part of that up to the fact that as we become teenagers, we become more conscious of our lives in general. However, part of it might also be that my ADHD symptoms did get worse as I entered adolescence.
If that’s the case, I wouldn’t be alone. A new study suggests that many children with ADHD experience an abrupt increase in their ADHD symptoms in early adolescence. According to the study, this is common in both boys and girls with ADHD, but it seems to be especially common in girls.
Of course, when we talk about symptoms increasing or appearing after childhood, there’s always some question of what’s really occurring: are people’s symptoms actually getting worse, or are the same underlying symptoms just becoming more apparent as the demands of life change? After all, early adolescence is a time when kids take a leap forward toward becoming independently functioning people, so it makes sense that their ADHD symptoms might begin to interfere more noticeably in their lives.
It’s plausible that there is some biological change occurring that makes some people’s ADHD symptoms suddenly become pronounced in their early teenage years. It’s also plausible that the same ADHD symptoms start to cause bigger problems as they enter adolescence.
Form a practical perspective, it might not make much of a difference whether one or both of these explanations is true. In either case, it’s obvious that early adolescence is an especially demanding time for kids with ADHD, one where parents should be vigilant about helping their children adapt to the new challenges life brings with new coping skills.
The finding that ADHD symptoms can spike in the early teenager years also raises questions about diagnosis. Right now, the DSM requires that symptoms be apparent in childhood for a diagnosis. What about people who wouldn’t meet the diagnostic criteria in childhood, but do meet the diagnostic criteria after their symptoms increase in early adolescence? According to the authors of the recent study, one factor in lower rates of diagnosis among women could be that they “may be more likely to be excluded from diagnosis due to current age of onset criteria.”
From this study, it’s not entirely clear whether this common early adolescent increase in symptoms represents a biological change or simply a change in the demands of life. Either way, though, it’s a good idea to be aware that the early teenage years seem to be a time when people are vulnerable to seeing a greater impact from their ADHD symptoms.
Image: Flickr/Best Buddies Delaware