Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in Teens

  • Medical Author:
    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    Dr. Mersch received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, and prior to entering the University Of Southern California School Of Medicine, was a graduate student (attaining PhD candidate status) in Experimental Pathology at USC. He attended internship and residency at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

How does ADHD in teens affect executive function?

The frontal lobes of the brain are located directly behind the forehead and are not felt to be functionally fully mature until an individual is 22-25 years of age. A major role of this brain region is to provide executive function. While older teens generally do not have fully matured frontal lobes, adolescents with ADHD may carry an extra burden of less maturity of this region and thus have even more problems with executive function.

The basic task of executive function is to facilitate formulation and execution of a plan to achieve a goal. Executive function involves the ability to manage several tasks. These include time management, ignoring unnecessary (extraneous) information, switching focus from one task to another, planning and organizing tasks to achieve a goal, remembering details, controlling inappropriate speech and/or behaviors, and integrating past experiences with the current task at hand. Specialists in human behavior subdivide executive function into two elements:

  1. Organization: "gathering information and structuring it for evaluation"
  2. Regulation: "taking stock of the environment and changing behavior in response to it"

An example of utilizing executive function might take place at dessert time in a restaurant. A large piece of chocolate cake is enticing, and the memory of prior pieces of chocolate cake provides a temptation (organization). However, remembering the excessive amount of calories the cake provides and your desire to lose 5 pounds enables you to skip dessert (regulation).

Teens with poorly managed executive function will commonly have problems with planning projects, memorizing information and integrating it into a subject area, estimating the time necessary to complete a project, and initiating and coordinating activities or tasks.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/22/2015
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