Do You Have Adult ADHD?
ADHD isn’t always diagnosed in childhood. Adults with ADHD may be disorganized or always late and may have depression or anxiety disorders.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) doesn’t just affect kids. It’s also a concern for 4 to 5 percent of U.S. adults, says Michael Manos, PhD, founding Director of Cleveland Clinic’s ADHD Center for Evaluation and Treatment.
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Many more adults may have the disorder and not know it.
Partly, that’s because symptoms of adult ADHD are different than childhood ADHD. Kids may have difficulty paying attention in school or playing quietly at home. But in adults:
In addition, problems with organizing can wreak havoc on keeping appointments and keeping promises.
“Adults with ADHD sometimes have problems with relationships and employment because they tend not to do what they say they’re going to do,” says Dr. Manos. “They tend not to keep agreements. Subsequently they get depressed or anxious, or they constantly criticize themselves.
To diagnose adult ADHD, a mental health specialist will rely on:
According to American Psychiatric Association guidelines, symptoms of ADHD should have been evident by age 12. But what if an adult has ADHD symptoms now but didn’t as a child? Can adults grow into ADHD just like children can grow out of it?
Dr. Manos doesn’t think so.
“It’s not that you outgrow ADHD or grow into ADHD,” says Dr. Manos. “It’s whether or not the symptoms — which were probably always there — are impairing. Adaptability, the means to manage ADHD symptoms, is what changes throughout life. A child may be quite bright and manage symptoms well, but when demand gets huge in adulthood — like when starting a family or getting a challenging new job — strategies that worked before may not work anymore.”
That explains how an adult with ADHD may not have been diagnosed with ADHD as a child, and vice versa. Dr. Manos attributes this to “social scaffolding” — the life situations and relationships within which a person operates.
When social scaffolding changes, so do ADHD symptoms.
“For adults newly diagnosed, their symptoms probably just weren’t detected in childhood,” says Dr. Manos. “It’s most likely that ADHD is a lifelong condition, but the jury is still out.”
Treating ADHD is the same in children, adolescents and adults. A combination of medication and behavioral intervention is the top-line treatment, although not everyone needs it, says Dr. Manos.
For adults, treatments may include:
The goal of treatment is to help patients and families adapt to ADHD. Symptoms may never go away, but they can be controlled so patients can have productive lives and healthy relationships.
“Learning to accept yourself as you are is the first step to managing how you are,” says Dr. Manos. “When you stop fighting traits like getting sidetracked or always being late, you can place more energy on adjusting your environment so you can become more productive or punctual and feel better about who you are.”