ADD/ADHD is not a problem confined to childhood. Many adults who were diagnosed with ADD/ADHD as children find that certain of the symptoms have followed them into adulthood. Whereas for some a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD is only made in adulthood.
The purpose of this month’s FOCUS ON topic is to provide you with information regarding adult ADD/ADHD: signs & symptoms in adults, the effects of adult ADD/ADHD and ways of helping yourself or someone you may know who has ADD/ADHD.
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) / Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
ADHD – is a developmental and behavioural disorder that is characterised by levels of inattention, distractibility, hyeractivity and impulsivity. Typically symptoms are inappropriate for a person’s age or developmental level and cause problems in everyday life.
ADD – is a label with the same meaning as ADHD. At one time, ADD referred to a disorder involving difficulty paying attention or focusing attention without hyperactivity.
Source: Bhandari, S. (2014). Glossary of ADHD Terms. Retrieved from: http://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/guide/adhd-glossary
Myths about ADD/ADHD in Adults
Myth: ADD/ADHD is a simple problem of being hyperactive or not listening when someone is talking to you.
Fact: ADD/ADHD is a complex disorder that involves impairments in focus, organisation, motivation, emotional modulation, memory, and other functions of the brain’s management system.
Myth: ADD/ADHD is just a lack of willpower. Persons with ADD/ADHD focus well on things that interest them; they could focus on any task if they really wanted to.
Fact: ADD/ADHD looks very much like a willpower problem, but it isn’t. It’s essentially a chemical problem in the management system of the brain.
Myth: Brains of persons with ADD/ADHD are over-active and need medication to calm down.
Fact: Under activity of the brain’s management networks is typical of persons with ADD/ADHD. Effective medications increase alertness and improve communication in the brain’s management system.
Myth: Those who have ADD/ADHD as children usually outgrow it as they enter their teens.
Fact: Often ADD/ADHD impairments are not very noticeable until the teen years, when more self-management is required in school and elsewhere. Also, ADD/ADHD may be subtle, but more disabling during adolescence and adulthood than in childhood.
Myth: Unless you have been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD as a child, you can’t have it as an adult.
Fact: Many adults have struggled all their lives with unrecognised ADD/ADHD impairments. They haven’t received help because they assumed that their chronic difficulties, like depression or anxiety, were caused by other impairments that did not respond to the usual treatments.
Myth: ADD/ADHD does not really cause much damage to a person’s life.
Fact: Untreated or inadequately treated ADD/ADHD often severely impairs learning, family life, education, work life, social interactions, and driving safely. Most of those with ADD/ADHD who receive adequate treatment, however, function quite well.
Brown, T.E. (2005). 10 Myths and Facts about Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD). Retrieved from: http://www.drthomasebrown.com/pdfs/myths_and_facts.pdf [Accessed on: 25 February 2015]
Common Signs & Symptoms of Adult ADD/ADHD
ADD/ADHD in adults presents quite differently than it does in children. Furthermore, because each person is unique different people will experience different symptoms and symptom clusters. The following categories are some of the most common signs & symptoms of adult ADD/ADHD:
Inattention & Concentration Difficulties
Adults with ADD/ADHD often have difficulty with staying focused and following through with mundane, daily tasks. Symptoms in this category are sometimes overlooked because they are not as outwardly disruptive as other symptoms such as hyperactivity and impulsivity.
Symptoms of inattention & concentration difficulties include:
- “zoning out” without realising it.
- extreme distractibility – inability to stay on track due to wandering attention
- difficulty paying attention or focusing – for example when reading or listening to others
- struggling to complete tasks – even simple ones
- tendency to overlook details, resulting in errors or incomplete work
- poor listening skills – includes difficulty in remembering conversations and following instructions
It is common knowledge that people with ADD/ADHD find it difficult to maintain their focus on tasks which they find uninteresting. However, what many don’t know is that people with ADD/ADHD also have a tendency to become over-absorbed in tasks that they find stimulating and interesting i.e. they become hyper-focused.
Hyper-focus is a type of coping mechanism for people with ADD/ADHD, it’s a way of tuning out distractions. On the positive side hyper-focus is useful when channelled into productive activities; however, on the negative side a hyper-focussed person tends to become so engrossed with what they are doing that they can lose track of time and neglect other things that they are meant to be seeing to, which could lead to problems at work and with relationships.
Disorganisation & Forgetfulness
Adults with ADD/ADHD often struggle with maintaining order in both their work and personal lives; this includes prioritising what needs to be done, time management and keeping track of tasks and responsibilities.
Symptoms of disorganisation and forgetfulness include:
- poor organisation skills
- tendency to procrastinate
- trouble with starting and finishing projects
- chronic lateness
- frequently forgetting appointments, deadlines and commitments
- constantly misplacing or losing things
- underestimating the amount of time required to complete a project or task
If you have impulse problems you may find that you struggle with: being patient; controlling your behaviour, comments and responses; acting or reacting without thinking the consequences through first; rushing to complete tasks without reading the instructions; interrupting others.
Symptoms of poor impulse control include:
- frequently interrupting others or talking over them
- poor self-control
- blurting out thoughts that are rude or inappropriate without thinking
- addictive tendencies
- act recklessly or spontaneously, without regard for the consequences
- having trouble with behaving in socially appropriate ways e.g. sitting still through a lecture period
Many adults with ADD/ADHD find it difficult to control their emotions, particularly those around anger and frustration.
Emotional symptoms include:
- sense of underachievement
- inability to deal with frustration and frustrating situations
- easily flustered and stressed out
- irritability and mood swings
- trouble staying motivated
- hypersensitivity to criticism
- short, at times explosive, temper
- low self-esteem
Hyperactivity & Restlessness
Hyperactivity is probably the best known symptom of ADD/ADHD but is only experienced by a small percentage of adult ADD/ADHD sufferers. The symptoms of hyperactivity often become more subtle and internal as the ADD/ADHD child matures into adulthood.
Symptoms of adult hyperactivity include:
- feelings of restlessness and agitation
- tendency to take risks
- getting bored easily
- racing thoughts
- constant fidgeting, trouble sitting still
- craving excitement
- multi-tasking without getting anything done
In Part 2 of Focus On: ADD/ADHD we will be looking at the Positive & Negative Effects of Adult ADD/ADHD
*The information contained in this post is for informative purposes only and is not a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.
Segal, R. & Smith, M. (2014). Adult ADD/ADHD: Signs, Symptoms, Effects and Treatment. Retrieved from: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/add-adhd/adult-adhd-attention-deficit-disorder.htm [Accessed on: 25 February 2015].