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Signs of ADD and ADHD in Teens


teen with add

Attention deficit disorder (ADD) is an old term that was once used to describe a type of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The difference of presenting symptoms distinguishes ADD and ADHD. ADHD is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as neurological disorder. ADHD is characterized by three main symptoms: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Most teens with ADHD experience all three symptoms. Prior to 1994 a teen with the main symptom being inattention would have been diagnosed with ADD, whereas now the formal diagnosis for this is: ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Type. It may also be referred to as ADHD without hyperactivity or Inattentive ADHD. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is extremely common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates nearly 3.3 million children between ages 12-17 have been diagnosed with ADHD. 

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms that can occur in a young person with ADHD can begin to present in children as young as five years old. Symptoms will often range in severity and can differ depending on a variety of contributing factors, including one’s gender. The Mayo Clinic provides the following examples of common signs and symptoms that a young person with ADHD may exhibit:

  • Easily distractible
  • Inattention to detail
  • Unable to engage in activities that require prolonged attention
  • Failure to meet deadlines (e.g. does not complete homework on time)
  • Regularly and mindlessly fidgeting  
  • Mind constantly wandering/ does not listen when directly spoken to
  • Organizational difficulties
  • Little or no patience 
  • Misplaces belongings frequently 
  • Excessive talking
  • Restlessness

The symptoms of ADHD a young person experiences are likely to interfere with his or her ability to function optimally in his or her daily life. 

DSM-5 ADHD Diagnostic Criteria

The diagnosis process for ADHD is rather complicated, as there is no single test for diagnosis, and symptoms will vary from teen to teen. According to the DSM-5, in order to be diagnosed with ADHD, a teen must show a persistent pattern of inattention and/ or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with his or her functioning or development. The CDC outlines the following:

  • Inattention: Six or more symptoms of inattention for children up to age 16 years, or five or more for adolescents age 17 years and older and adults; symptoms of inattention have been present for at least 6 months, and they are inappropriate for developmental level:
      • Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or with other activities.
      • Often has trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities.
      • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
      • Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (e.g., loses focus, side-tracked).
      • Often has trouble organizing tasks and activities.
      • Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework).
      • Often loses things necessary for tasks and activities (e.g. school materials, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, mobile telephones).
      • Is often easily distracted
      • Is often forgetful in daily activities.
  • Hyperactivity and Impulsivity: Six or more symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity for children up to age 16 years, or five or more for adolescents age 17 years and older and adults; symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity have been present for at least 6 months to an extent that is disruptive and inappropriate for the person’s developmental level:
    • Often fidgets with or taps hands or feet, or squirms in seat.
    • Often leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected.
    • Often runs about or climbs in situations where it is not appropriate (adolescents or adults may be limited to feeling restless).
    • Often unable to play or take part in leisure activities quietly.
    • Is often “on the go” acting as if “driven by a motor”.
    • Often talks excessively.
    • Often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed.
    • Often has trouble waiting their turn.
    • Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games)

It is essential to have a mental health professional evaluate a teen that may be struggling with ADHD in order to obtain the proper diagnosis, so as to ensure the most effective treatment.

For Information and Support

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know is in need of mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person for the long term. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.

Our admissions team is available to answer any general questions regarding mental health issues, treatment, and/or specific questions about the program at Pacific Teen Treatment and how we might be able to help your family. We can be reached by phone 24/7 at 800-531-5769. You can also contact us via email at

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