ADHD in Adults
We have the privilege of helping many adult clients seeking answers to lifelong questions about their struggles with attention, organisation, follow-through, distraction and impulsivity. Often, they have wondered about ADHD but they may be quite successful in parts of their life or perhaps didn’t fit their, or society’s, stereotype of what ADHD looks like. This is particularly true for people with the Predominantly Inattentive presentation because they are not hyperactive. We frequently hear stories of frustration and poor self-worth stemming from difficulties they put down to being lazy or dumb.
What is ADHD?
Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental difference characterised by difficulties with attention and with controlling impulses that can have a significant impact on the person’s daily activities and relationships. ADHD is complex in that the underlying differences are still undetermined but thought to be influenced by a combination of genes, environment and differences in brain development.
ADHD affects people across the lifespan: children, adolescents and adults of all ages. While signs of ADHD emerge in childhood and typically improve as children grow older, approximately 15 % of those children continue to have struggles due to ADHD as adults. We often see adult clients who were not diagnosed as children, sometimes because they worked so hard to mask their difficulties, but the demands of adulthood highlight the underlying challenges.
Some of the most common indicators seen in adults with ADHD:
Struggling to complete tasks
Zoning in and out in conversations, making it hard to follow actively and take part in conversations
Frequently losing things
Difficulties with organisation, planning and time management skills
Symptoms such as being forgetful, lacking motivation to complete tasks, and zoning out of conversations, are things we all experience from time to time. However, when they occur frequently and are significantly impacting work, relationships and the ability to complete everyday tasks, they are more likely to indicate ADHD. At this point, an assessment and treatment by a professional might be helpful.
What does the assessment involve?
There is no single medical, physical or genetic test that can determine if an individual has ADHD. Instead, a comprehensive assessment with a qualified mental health professional is recommended. During the assessment, detailed past and current functioning is obtained by speaking to you (the adult seeking assessment) and your family member/another person who knows you well. Questionnaires are also completed by you and your family member/significant other. This is to investigate the impact of your behaviour and attention in your everyday life.
During the assessment, cognitive tests looking at your attention, memory and problem solving, and other areas will be administered. These are to see if there is objective evidence to back up the difficulties with attention and problem solving seen in your everyday life. Together with the results of the tests, questionnaires and your childhood and current history, a well-informed decision about the diagnosis can be made.
Treatment for the struggles created by ADHD in adults depends on how severely ADHD is impacting your life. It may include speaking to a mental health practitioner to develop coping strategies or seeing a psychiatrist regarding medication to help with your attentional difficulties. In many cases, the combination of the two has shown the best outcome, especially for individuals who are experiencing moderate to severe impacts of ADHD.
Getting assessed and diagnosed as an ADHDer as an adult can be daunting and overwhelming. However, it can also lead to important insights to help you understand yourself better and how your brain works. It may bring light to the reason behind some of the difficulties you experienced and indicate the sorts of accommodations that might be helpful.
A strengths approach
We take an affirming, strengths-based approach to our assessments, therapy and all interactions. If you are an undiagnosed ADHDer, you have probably developed amazing strategies already for coping with your challenges. And you will definitely have some strengths directly related to ADHD – it can be a superpower in many respects.
But you are also likely to benefit from education and support from a mental health practitioner. Part of this will be learning how to make your environment more suited to your unique profile of strengths and challenges. There’s no doubt, many of the difficulties faced by ADHDers are due to a poor fit between their needs and the situations they face at work/school and at home. Thriving with ADHD is possible and it is never too late in the journey of self-discovery to reach out and get the appropriate assessment and treatment. There is light at the end of the tunnel!
Juhi Sanghavi, Clinical Neuropsychologist