Symptoms of ADHD in Adults
You are probably familiar with ADHD and its symptoms in children who have been diagnosed. But, did you know you could recognize the symptoms of ADHD in adults? Since research on adults with ADHD is limited, those struggling are often left undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, which can lead to frustration and confusion. Let’s take a look at what we know about adult ADHD.
Signs of ADHD
First, let’s review the current diagnosis of ADHD from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, version five, the manual that helps health professionals identify and diagnose mental disorders. Currently, ADHD is divided into three subtypes.
The DSM-5 lists two groups of symptoms used to diagnose the disorder. One group lists traits of inattentive ADHD, and the other lists traits of hyperactive-compulsive ADHD. For a diagnosis of either inattentive or hyperactive-compulsive ADHD to occur, a person needs to exhibit at least 5-or-6 traits (depending on age) that inhibit daily life for at least the last six months.
The only difference between these subtypes and combined ADHD is that a person with combined ADHD will present at least 5-or-6 traits from each list, with a total of at least 10-to-12 traits. Here are some examples of those traits:
- Inattentive ADHD is characterized by the following traits:
- Overlooks details, is easily distractible and forgetful
- Struggles with selective attention for prolonged periods of time and avoids/dislikes activities that require this skill
- Appears not to listen when directly spoken to, has trouble organizing, keeping track of materials for and fully completing tasks
- Hyperactive-compulsive ADHD is characterized by the following traits:
- Is fidgety when seated and cannot remain seated for prolonged periods of time
- Has difficulty quietly participating in leisure activities, and runs or climbs at inappropriate times or feels restless
- Talks excessively, interrupts when others are speaking, and has difficulty waiting their turn
- Combined ADHD is characterized by a combination of the traits described above.
ADHD can be genetic! If one family member is diagnosed with ADHD, chances are another family member is or could be diagnosed, too. Some of our students with ADHD may retain their diagnoses into adulthood. While ADHD affects children and adults in similar ways, those symptoms often present differently.
Let’s take a look at the adult-side of ADHD.
What it looks like in adults
As previously mentioned, these traits will look a little different in adults than they do in children. Hyperactivity in children may present as running around a waiting room. Hyperactivity in adults more often presents as restlessness. In that same waiting room, an adult may tap her foot, check the time, get up to choose a magazine to browse, get up to put that magazine away, check the time again.
This restlessness may also be noticeable in moments of intended quiet relaxation, such as while watching a movie with a loved one. If the movie’s subject isn’t stimulating enough, his thoughts might wander away from the plot, he may get up to check something or make comments not related to the movie he’s watching.
Adults have many more responsibilities to keep track of than children. For those with ADHD, difficulty with organizing materials, staying focused on the present activity and leaving boring tasks to the last minute can contribute to chronic tardiness and procrastination.
Imagine trying to get your family organized in the morning. But you haven’t made a visual calendar to remind yourself of what is happening that day. You’ve also forgotten you’ve scheduled a doctor’s appointment for your child. You just had a thought to check social media for a healthy snack idea for the next soccer practice. Now, you’ve forgotten where you put your car keys. Before you even know it, you and your family have left the house ten minutes late. This is the daily reality for adults with ADHD.
Impulse control is another trait that differs between children and adults. Adults with ADHD might be quick to anger, but also quick to forget that anger. They might be chronic impulse buyers or seek stimulation by abusing substances. They also tend to appear not to be focused on the conversation at hand and will also interrupt others during that conversation.
Imagine you’re telling your loved one about your day, but she keeps looking at her phone and at one point interrupts you. And last night she suddenly became angry because you had forgotten to run an errand, but later acted like nothing had happened. What appears like disinterest and rudeness may actually be symptoms of ADHD.
This is why adults with ADHD often struggle to maintain romantic, work and other relationships.
What can we do about this? It is important to talk to a healthcare professional about diagnosing and managing any disorders, but here are a few tips that can help adults both with and without ADHD:
- Work that restlessness out with exercise! This can also help you sleep better at night and prevent the mental fatigue that often accompanies ADHD.
- Take a deep breath and count to ten before reacting in anger. Challenge yourself to wait a day or a week before making that next impulse purchase.
- Transfer that yearning for novelty into high-intensity sports rather than substance abuse. Recognize that this can also impact long-lasting relationships that cease to feel new and be exciting daily.
- Visually organize your life. Update the calendar app on your phone and consult it regularly. Mark up a wall calendar with your appointments and put it up in a central place in your home. Browse the organization section at the office supply store and see if you can minimize those piles on your desk at work.
We hope this post has made you reconsider the actions of some people in your life. ADHD is a challenging disorder for both children AND adults. With a little more understanding, we can create more positive and compassionate relationships with our children, friends, family members, and coworkers.