Help Your ADHD Teenager Find His Passion

Parenting ADHD children: How to help your teenager find his unique talents and skills.

Helping your ADHD teen find his passion: music, art, writing...

Each person has unique talents and gifts — it’s just a matter of teasing them out.

Theresa L. Maitland, Ph.D.

Reader Tips: Promote Passion

If a new interest—in anything—springs up, I encourage my son to read books about it. —Heather, Michigan

Pursue interests alongside your child. Play an instrument together. Ski together. Do home repair projects together. Listen to his ideas without passing judgment. —Tom, Boston

I let my son try different things, and I never let him give up in the middle of a first exploration. Many times my son winds up liking something that he wanted to give up on. —Christine, Utah

My kids always knew their own passions. But I do recommend the book 7 Kinds of Smart, by Thomas Armstrong, for thoughts on discovering new passions and developing old ones. —Pat, Maryland


Teens hear it constantly — find your passion. It’s as if one or two talents or skills are the magic pills for success, in school and in life. High-school guidance counselors suggest that a worthwhile hobby is just the ticket for getting into a good college.

The truth is, it can be. A special interest is fulfilling, it may impress admissions officers, and it could lead to success in college and beyond. But for teens with ADHD, finding that one special thing can be a challenge. Where do they begin? How can they pick just one activity when they enjoy so many?

“The busy ADD mind has a great capacity for dabbling in a variety of activities, and not going deep in any one area,” says Theresa L. Maitland, Ph.D., coordinator of the Academic Success Program for Students with LD and ADHD at the University of North Carolina. ADD kids have trouble selecting one or two standout pursuits. The quiet reflection needed to shorten the list of possibilities — what Maitland calls “being still with oneself” — does not come easy for them.

Filling a teen’s days with tutors and life coaches certainly doesn’t help. “We focus too much on our teens’ weaknesses, and not enough on uncovering talent or passion,” says Maitland. “We are all naturally good at something.”

Giving teens time and space to think about what makes them feel good about themselves is one way parents can nurture the process. Another is helping them discover clues about what their passions may be. Your teen has to do the hard work of finding and cultivating her talents, but your support — and the good sense to back off at times — will keep your teen on task.

Rate His Interests

“Each person has unique talents and gifts — it’s just a matter of teasing them out,” says Maitland, who specializes in helping high school and college students stay on track with their academic and extracurricular pursuits. She often refers students to Richard Chang’s book, The Passion Plan: A Step-by-Step Guide to Discovering, Developing, and Living Your Passion (Jossey-Bass), to help them mine their talents.

This article comes from the Spring 2008 issue of ADDitude.

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TAGS: Teens and Tweens with ADHD, ADHD in High School, Self Esteem, ADHD and College

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