Diagnosing Adult ADHD

Health Writer

ADHD was once considered to be a childhood disorder. It was thought that as children reached puberty and then adulthood, symptoms disappeared. As we now know, this is far from the truth. As people strived to understand childhood ADHD and to help their children, more and more information was written explaining the symptoms and characteristic behaviors that go along with Attention Deficit Disorder. Parents began to see themselves in this information. They began to realize the symptoms their children were experiencing were the same symptoms they had experienced as a child. As research advanced, adults and doctors alike discovered that the symptoms of ADHD continued into adulthood.

The majority of adults with ADD/ADHD today do not receive any treatment. Throughout the years, they have found various ways of coping with their symptoms, including using organizational tools like PDA's. Some may have found partners to help them create structure and provide organization. Others may have found jobs and careers that utilize some of the positive traits of ADHD to help them succeed.

Some adults with ADHD, however, have spent years going from one job to another, feeling as if they could never quite "get it together." Some have found ways to self-medicate, including caffeine or illegal substances. Some live in despair, wondering why their life seems hopeless.

Adult ADD/ADHD shares the same major symptoms of the childhood disorder: impulsiveness, inattention and hyperactivity, although many adults indicate that their hyperactivity has slowed down in adulthood.

According to the CHADD (Children and Adults with ADHD) What We Know Series on Adult ADHD, those that seek treatment indicate problems in one or more of the following areas:

  • Inconsistent performance in jobs or careers; losing or quitting jobs frequently
  • A history of academic and/or career underachievement
  • Poor ability to manage day-to-day responsibilities (e.g., completing household chores or maintenance tasks, paying bills, organizing things)
  • Relationship problems due to not completing tasks, forgetting important things, or getting upset easily over minor things
  • Chronic stress and worry due to failure to accomplish goals and meet responsibilities
  • Chronic and intense feelings of frustration, guilt, or blame

There are, however, many positive traits and characteristics of Adult ADHD. Some that have been reported to me through discussions include:

  • Creativity, imagination and humor
  • Hyperfocus (the ability to focus on a task and block out all external stimulus)
  • Boundless energy and spontaneity
  • Ability to be a problem solver and think "outside the box"
  • Intense passion

Treatments

Treatment for adult ADHD is the same as for children. The most traditional treatment is a combination of medication and behavior modification techniques. These techniques can include:

Accommodations at work such as flexible work schedules, adapting training materials to include audio and or video presentations, allowing meetings to be tape recorded, color coding for filing, restructuring of jobs, and room dividers to minimize distractions.

Personal organizational systems to include PDAs or dayplanners, using a computer and email for scheduling, using grammar and spelling software, using charts and reminder systems, and dividing household chores.

Additional methods often used by adults with ADD/ADHD include using white noise to help with concentration or to sleep, making lists to remember chores and errands and joining a support group. Many adults with ADHD have compensated for symptoms of ADHD throughout their lives without even realizing it, finding methods such as the ones listed above to overcome shortcomings. For some, finally having a diagnosis means understanding what has been causing problems for most of their lives. Beginning treatment, at any age, opens new opportunities and allows individuals to make the best of all they have to offer.

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Sources:

"Diagnosis of AD/HD in Adults (WWK9)." National Resource Center on AD/HD. 2003. CHADD. National Resource Center on ADHD

Searight, PhD, H. Russell, Burke, PharmD, John M.. Rottnek, MD, Fred. "Adult ADHD: Evaluation and Treatment in Family Medicine." 01 Nov 2000. American Academey of Family Physicians.