Statistics: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is one of the most common mental disorders in children, affecting 3 to 5 percent of school-age children (NIMH, 1999).
Children and adolescents with attention deficit disorder, ADD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD, typically exhibit behaviors such as:
Poor or short attention span
Hyperactivity or disruptive behavior
Inability to focus on a particular task or project through completion
Parents might notice more subtle behavioral problems, such as poor performance in school even though the child is bright, complaints from teachers that the child cannot or will not pay attention and is disruptive in class, and a tendency to do things “without thinking” that could endanger the child, such as running into the street without looking or high-risk behaviors. The parent might feel that the child has no sense of the consequences of his or her behavior. Children with ADD or ADHD also often have a low frustration level and can become irritable or belligerent when pressed to complete a task they cannot seem to focus on.
Sometimes it is hard for a parent to recognize the difference between an active, high-energy child and one who has ADD or ADHD. Some of the typical things parents, teachers, and other caretakers might say about a child that could indicate ADD or ADHD are:
“He never listens.”
“She never finishes what she starts.”
“He can’t concentrate in class.”
“He does things without thinking.”
“She can’t wait her turn.”
“He never follows directions and just does things his way.”
“He always talks in class and can’t seem to sit still.”
“She always interrupts me.”
“He’s always getting hurt.”
“She drives me crazy. She moves too fast and ends up knocking things over.”
“He has more energy than I can handle. It’s like someone wound him up!”
“He is so careless and accident prone.”
“She’s never doing what she’s supposed to be doing. She can’t focus for 5 minutes!”
“He’s so smart but he can’t seem to finish his homework.”
Some of the typical statements parents find themselves saying over and over to such children are:
“Can’t you sit still for five minutes!”
“Wait your turn!”
“Quiet! Stop interrupting.”
“How could you lose that again?”
“Watch where you’re going. Don’t you ever think before you act?”
Although many ADD/ADHD kids show signs as early as pre-school, many parents think the child is just energetic and feisty. This may be the case. However, if this energy seems excessive or destructive, or if it interferes with school, personal relationships, or the safety of the child (impulsive, risk-taking behaviors), it could well be attention deficit disorder.
One risk of late diagnosis of ADD/ADHD is that a child can fall behind in academics, which leads to a decline in healthy levels of self-esteem. Teenagers who have not been properly diagnosed may be more prone to high-risk behaviors (impulsiveness) such as fast, risky driving and drug experimentation. Some pre-adolescent and adolescent children may even self-medicate with alcohol, marijuana, or other mood-altering substances. They may not be consciously aware of it, but what they are doing is making them seemingly feel better, or more “normal.” Some adolescents might even say, “It takes the edge off.”
ADD and ADHD are seen more often in boys than girls, and the disorder often runs in families. A parent might feel particularly frustrated with an ADD child because he or she “sees” himself or herself in the child and doesn’t want them to experience the same problems and struggles the parent experienced as a child.
Self-destructive behaviors can develop into serious problems if ADD and ADHD are left untreated. Teenagers who have long suffered from ADD or ADHD without intervention generally perform below ability in school, have more negative interactions with authority figures or law enforcement, are more likely to drop out of school, are more likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol, and are more likely to become injured in accidents due to risk-taking behaviors.
Aspen Education Group has a number of programs that can help pre-adolescent and adolescent children who have self-defeating behaviors related to attention deficit and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. These intensive programs can quickly narrow down the issues your child is experiencing to help him or her on a positive life path.
Stone Mountain School is a long-term residential school in an outdoors environment specializing in pre-adolescent and teenaged boys with behavioral problems such as ADD and ADHD. Students live with their peer groups in rustic campsites supervised by trained staff and they learn, through direct experience, how to take responsibility for their actions. Talk to a program representative for more information.
The SUWS Youth Program excels at treating the underlying issues causing negative behavior rather than merely treating the symptoms. It is one of the oldest experiential outdoor wilderness programs in the country addressing the needs of adolescents. Talk to a program representative for more information.