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Let’s talk about adult ADHD

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is often thought of as a children’s disorder. When most people think of ADHD, they imagine a hyperactive little boy running amuck in the classroom, unable to pay attention to his teacher.

But this is a very limited view of ADHD. Although some children do outgrow ADHD, many don’t — which means that children with ADHD will grow up to be adults with ADHD. 

Over 4% of U.S. adults are diagnosed with ADHD. That’s over 10 million people! And that’s not even considering the many adults with ADHD who are overlooked or misdiagnosed.

Adult ADHD is highly misunderstood because of the idea that ADHD is a disorder that only occurs in children. This has left so many adults with ADHD struggling unnecessarily with ADHD symptoms that can easily be treated. At Focus Partners, one of our goals is to spread awareness about what adult ADHD looks like so you can recognize its signs and get treatment.

What is adult ADHD?

First of all, what is ADHD, exactly?

ADHD is a behavioral and neurodevelopmental disorder that usually begins in childhood. Although some children grow out of ADHD (or learn to manage it well enough where it’s no longer disrupting their lives), it’s considered a chronic condition. That means that there is currently no cure for ADHD, and people live with it their entire lives.

Adult ADHD isn’t a separate condition from ADHD in children, but it’s often differentiated from childhood ADHD because it comes with its own stigma and challenges. ADHD is often diagnosed in childhood, but we’re learning now that many children with ADHD, especially girls, are overlooked by both teachers and medical providers. It isn’t until they reach adulthood and seek help themselves that they’re finally given the correct diagnosis.

ADHD can be particularly difficult for people who were never appropriately diagnosed as children, because they never received the treatment that could have helped them manage their symptoms. If this describes you, you may have gotten to adulthood without any treatment or support for your ADHD symptoms.

Since you didn’t know that ADHD is interfering with your functioning, you may have blamed yourself for the ways ADHD got in the way of your life. For example, if school was difficult for you, you may have labeled yourself as “not smart enough.”

Once you’re correctly diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, you can start to understand how the things you’ve struggled with your whole life may have been caused by ADHD. It isn’t your fault, and there are ways to manage your symptoms so you can live well with this condition.

What does ADHD look like in adults?

For both children and adults, ADHD has three different presentations: the predominantly inattentive type, the predominantly hyperactive/impulsive type, and the combined type. ADHD can look very differently depending on where you fall on this continuum.

Predominantly inattentive type adult ADHD

Adults who live with the predominantly inattentive type of ADHD struggle to regulate or maintain their focus. They may find their attention wandering off during long or boring meetings. They may be very forgetful, or constantly misplace things. These are the people who miss important meetings (even though they’re highly professional and responsible), or often appear to be in a daze.

You may have predominantly inattentive type adult ADHD if you:

  • Are constantly misplacing your keys or phone
  • Have a hard time paying attention during long meetings or lectures
  • Forget important meetings
  • Miss deadlines
  • Need to make lists to stay organized with their tasks
  • Lose your train of thought in the middle of a sentence
  • Need to ask people to repeat themselves often because your mind has wandered off
  • Have difficulty remembering to pay your bills on time
  • Avoid any task that you know is going to require prolonged attention and effort
  • Frequently make careless mistakes that aren’t a reflection of your true abilities
  • Are able to pay attention when something captures your attention — but may lose interest in those same things very quickly
  • Have trouble starting or finishing projects

Predominantly inattentive ADHD tends to be more common in women — which contributes to women with ADHD being overlooked as children.

Hyperactive-impulsive type of adult ADHD

Other adults with ADHD have the hyperactive-impulsive type. This is the type of ADHD that’s usually associated with hyperactive little boys. Hyperactivity may look differently in adults. Instead of running around, adults with this type of ADHD may feel restless or have trouble winding down, even when they’re tired.

You may have hyperactive-impulsive adult ADHD if you:

  • Find it nearly torturous to wait in line
  • Interrupt people frequently while they’re talking
  • Have a hard time waiting your turn in a conversation
  • Feel like you need to get up and walk around in the middle of meetings, or not being able to sit still for long periods of time
  • Have been told that you talk “too much”
  • Have intense emotions, or have frequent angry outbursts that subside quickly
  • Have “no filter” or blurt things out often without thinking about how they’ll come across
  • Are always fidgeting

Combined type of adult ADHD

Adults may be diagnosed with the combined presentation of ADHD if they have both hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive symptoms. This is the most common type of ADHD.

It’s important to note that only a licensed provider can diagnose you with ADHD. Diagnosis is a lot more complex than reading a list of adult ADHD symptoms. If you haven’t been diagnosed with ADHD, you can schedule an assessment with us.

What can trigger ADHD in adults?

More and more people are first getting diagnosed with ADHD as adults, including many of our members. Does this mean that ADHD can start developing in adulthood?

The answer to this question is complex. There is increasing evidence that supports the existence of “late-onset ADHD.” Although ADHD is primarily a condition that starts in childhood, some people may not start developing symptoms until young adulthood. A new study has found that late-onset ADHD may be a distinct disorder from childhood-onset ADHD, and around 70% of their young adult participants didn’t have ADHD symptoms in childhood.

In these cases, it’s important to understand that ADHD that comes on in adulthood may be more complex than being simply a continuation of childhood ADHD, as adult ADHD used to be understood.

But often, adults did have ADHD symptoms in childhood — they were just misdiagnosed or overlooked. This happens often with girls and women, who commonly have the predominantly inattentive type of ADHD. Since ADHD is still misunderstood by teachers and other professionals as primarily being a disorder of hyperactivity, girls (and other children) with the predominantly inattentive presentation of ADHD may not be identified. Girls with inattention may also work harder to mask their symptoms.

On top of that, inattentiveness doesn’t usually cause problems in the classroom the way hyperactivity does. If you had the predominantly inattentive type of ADHD as a child, you may have sat in the back of the classroom zoning out while the kids with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD talked out of turn and got out of their seat. As the saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease — and your teachers may not have noticed you if you weren’t causing any trouble for them.

Get Online ADHD Treatment for Adults with Focus Partners

Whether you’ve known you have ADHD since you were a child or you’re newly diagnosed, you deserve treatment. Although ADHD is a chronic condition, it doesn’t need to stop you from living a successful, happy, and fulfilling life.

Focus Partners provides telehealth-based online ADHD treatment for adults, and we’re here to listen to you and help unlock the full power of your potential. Our team currently provides ADHD treatment services online in Ohio, Illinois, Michigan and New York. Get started by taking our initial online ADHD assessment to start your ADHD treatment journey today.