When I became a mom of boy/girl twins, I had twice as much laundry, diapers, and crying as my mom friends of singletons.
What I didn’t know at the time was that I also had twice as much Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). (Editor’s note: 9.3% or 5.64 million children have ADHD, affecting older children (12 to 17 years) more at 12%, according to the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) Interactive Data Query, 2021.)
There were plenty of clues along the way, but my son didn’t get diagnosed until age eight, and his twin sister until age 15. Unfortunately, their gender differences might be one of the main reasons for a seven-year variance between the time they were diagnosed (boys are twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD as girls.)
Even though I used to be a counselor for teens who had ADHD, it’s different when your own kids have the disorder. My former role helped me understand terms and techniques, but I still had to figure out what worked best for our family.
Seven strategies to help teens with ADHD
My twins just graduated from high school, and here’s what we found helpful to be successful during the past four years:
Routines are essential.
The biggest issue that both of my twins have in relation to ADHD is forgetting things. On more than one occasion, they would spend hours completing a project using posterboard or creating a 3D model only to forget it at home.
This might not make sense to someone who doesn’t have ADHD, but for those who do, I’m sure you can relate.
The best way to fix this issue is to have routines and schedules so that the behaviors become habits rather than memory.
For example, they would pack their bags the night before going to school and then place it by the front door. This way, they can see it before they leave the house and remember to take it. Next to their bag would be any sports equipment like a tennis racket and water bottle.
Another helpful tip is to use technology. Let’s face it—their phone is like a third appendage that they never seem to lose! So using it is a great way to help them.
There are plenty of apps on there available to help those managing ADHD, but the easiest technique is to use reminder alerts.
Anytime they say, “I forgot,” I respond with, “Then next time, set up a reminder alert on your phone.” It’s also a lot easier than having to nag them, which I also remind them is the alternative.
Regular communication with teachers is key.
While high school is a time for teens to become more independent, when your student has ADHD, it’s important to ensure the parent, teacher, and student are all on the same page.
At the beginning of the school year, I always made a point to speak with all of their teachers and offered them my cell phone and email to open the lines of communication. When I talked with them, we discussed what helped my kids to learn in previous years, such as a seat in the front row or visual pictures.
I also let the teachers know that they have ADHD and genuinely care about school, even though it might seem like they are sometimes not paying attention. Furthermore, I tell them that if their grades are slipping or they aren’t handing in their assignments, they should contact me to figure out what’s causing the problem.
If they are having trouble paying attention, it tends to “snowball” without them realizing it. If we can prevent the avalanche from occurring, then everyone has a much better school year.
Accommodations can be helpful.
If your child has ADHD, they may qualify for an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 plan. To qualify for an IEP, usually, your child would need to have a learning disability diagnosis along with ADHD, but sometimes you could qualify for one with only an ADHD diagnosis.
Students on an IEP would receive special education services, whereas students on a 504 plan only have regular education services. On both plans, though, you can receive accommodations for ADHD that can help your teens. Some common ones are preferential seating, testing in a distraction-free setting, and additional time on tests or homework.
My daughter did not qualify for either plan, but that’s where communication with the teachers can be helpful. Most teachers want their students to be successful, so even if they don’t have an official plan, they can work with the student to ensure they are learning in a suitable environment.
It’s not worth arguing over a messy room.
One aspect of having ADHD can result in being disorganized or messy. My son is actually organized and neat for the most part, but my other teenager’s room is a mess. I even wrote a few articles about how I cope with my daughter’s inability to put her laundry away as a form of therapy since I’m an extremely neat and organized person.
After writing all these articles, I learned that it’s not worth arguing over a messy room—arguing never solved anything and only caused a rift in our relationship. There are many ways you can handle it.
I mostly use humor by commenting, “Is this a science experiment?” And yes, she did laugh when I asked. Or probably the most effective method is keeping the door to her room permanently closed.
Sleep, diet, and exercise are more important than you realize.
My twins had to figure this out for themselves, but I often pointed it out to them.
If they were having difficulty paying attention, I might ask, “What time did you go to sleep last night?”
Or if they were struggling to focus on their homework, I might ask, “What did you eat for dinner?”
They also both enjoy exercising by being on a sports team or strength training on their own. They found that it helped to release some of that energy they had to use all day to focus.
When you have ADHD, you need to learn how to advocate for yourself.
My son struggled with this when he was younger but slowly learned how to advocate for accommodations that helped him succeed. During his senior year, one of his teachers told me that he asked her, “Can I please finish this project after school since I’m having trouble focusing right now?” I had tears in my eyes hearing this, knowing he would have never done this, even a year ago.
Give yourself grace as a parent
When you are a mom, it’s hard to figure out when to let them walk to the bus stop on their own or when to let them stay home alone.
But when your kid has a disability, it’s even harder to figure out that fine line of when to help them or when to let them try it on their own.
You watch them struggle so much more than your other kid without a disability that sometimes you want to make it easier for them by bringing them that forgotten Chromebook.
In the end, though, when they can advocate and care for themselves, it’s the greatest gift that you can give to them and to yourself.