Do Adults have ADHD?



Just because you become an adult it doesn’t mean your symptoms magically disappear!  


It was previously believed that children outgrew ADHD.  Now we understand that 30-60% of children diagnosed with ADHD continue to be affected into adulthood.


As adults, the symptoms can often lessen as the pre-frontal cortex and executive function matures.  As adults we tend to have more self-control, and hyperactivity symptoms tend to lesson with age, but may manifest as fidgeting, or other small movements.


The school system is often a difficult place for children with ADHD but once you’re free to choose a career path that suits you, and have developed positive strategies to help you overcome some of your ADHD challenges, life may become easier and outward symptoms less apparent.  


Freed from the constraints of school, ADHD may become less of an issue for some.  It can be a huge relief to study in a way that suits you, explore subjects that interest you and discover what you really love.


On the other hand, symptoms may come to the fore when your life changes and you suddenly have less structure or more challenges in life such as, starting uni or a new job, living on your own for the first time or becoming a parent.


Many adults realise they have ADHD when their children are diagnosed.  They learn more about symptoms of ADHD and recognise they have those same symptoms.


If you didn’t have a co-morbid learning difficulty and always managed to do well in school or at uni but wonder why you’ve never quite reached your potential, seen others less qualified than you take promotions over you or feel fed up with yourself for just not being able to get on top of life, you may wonder why this is.  If you’re constantly stressed, depressed, anxious, missing, or just managing, deadlines, constantly procrastinating and wondering why you suck at time management – you might have adult ADHD!


There are other conditions that can cause ADHD symptoms such as menopause, thyroid issues and other medical issues or psychiatric conditions.  Please refer to Conditions that Mimic ADHD and Co-Morbid Conditions to check whether any of these might relate to your situation and of course consult your GP.


Getting a diagnosis as an adult it similar to getting a diagnosis for a child, though you will see seek a referral to a Psychologist or Psychiatrist.  You will need to present with 5 of the symptoms on the list in What is ADHD? and they must have been present before the age of 12.


As an adult with ADHD, the symptoms manifest differently as follows:


  • Difficulty attending to/finishing mundane tasks
  • Zoning out without realising
  • Distractibility - making it hard to stay on track
  • Problems paying attention/focusing on tasks such as reading/listening to others
  • Difficulty completing tasks – even simple ones
  • Overlooking details leading to errors or incomplete work
  • Poor listening skills leading to difficulty following directions/remembering conversations.
Adults with ADHD tend to hyper focus or become absorbed in stimulating or rewarding tasks and become oblivious to things happening around them, leading to losing track of time/neglecting other tasks etc.

Hyper focus can be a super power when channeled into productive activities, but can cause difficulties at work or in relationships if unmanaged.
Life can often seem chaotic and out of control because staying organised and on top of things can be extremely challenging. Similarly, deciding what information is relevant for specific tasks, prioritising work, managing and keeping on top of responsibilities and tasks is also difficult.

  • Poor organisational skills (home, office desk or car messy/cluttered)
  • Procrastination
  • Trouble starting and/or finishing projects
  • Chronic lateness
  • Frequently forgetting appointments, commitments and deadlines
  • Constantly losing, misplacing items such as keys, wallet, phone, documents
  • Underestimating the time it will take to complete
  • Frequently interrupting/talking over others
  • Self control
  • Blurting out rude/inappropriate thoughts without thinking
  • Addictive tendencies
  • Acting recklessly/spontaneously without regard for consequences
  • Behaving in socially inappropriate ways
  • Sense of underachievement
  • Inability to cope with frustration
  • Easily flustered/stressed out
  • Irritability/mood swings
  • Difficulty getting/remaining motivated
  • Hypersensitivity to criticism
  • Short, often explosive temper
  • Low self-esteem and sense of insecurity
Hyperactivity in adults with ADHD can be similar to children – extremely energetic and constantly ‘on the go’ as if driven by a motor. For many people with ADHD symptoms of hyperactivity become less visible with age.

Common adult symptoms of hyperactivity include:

  • Feelings of inner restlessness/agitation
  • Tendency to take risks
  • Getting bored easily
  • Racing thoughts
  • Trouble sitting still/constantly fidgeting
  • Craving excitement
  • Talking excessively
  • Chronic multitasking
If you discover you have ADHD as an adult, there’s a strong possibility that over the years you’ve suffered by being labeled ‘lazy’ or ‘stupid’ due to your forgetfulness or difficulty completing tasks or you may have a negative self-image because you just can’t seem to ‘get on top of life’. The consequences of ADHD may lead you to feel a loss of confidence, frustration, hopelessness or disappointment. Knowing the cause of your difficulties is ADHD, and not the result of personal weakness or a character flaw, can be an enormous relief and give hope.

  • ADHD doesn’t dictate intelligence or ability. Some things may be more difficult but that doesn’t mean you don’t have strengths, which will enable you to find your calling and achieve success. Your strengths might include incredible creativity, passion, energy, out-of-the-box thinking or original ideas so identify and play to them!

  • Adult ADHD is not a barrier to success. There are many successful people who have ADHD and use it to their advantage. People with ADHD, with their impulsive, risk-taking, innovative ideas, energy & enthusiasm make great entrepreneurs and business leaders, scientists, inventors and explorers!

However, having said that, if ADHD is unmanaged its effects can be far-reaching:

  • The emotional difficulties mentioned above and the co-morbid conditions associated with ADHD can result in anxiety, depression, chronic stress and low self-esteem.

  • Adults with ADHD often experience career difficulties and feel a strong sense of underachievement. They may have trouble keeping a job, following corporate rules, meeting deadlines, getting to work on time or simply sticking to a 9-5 routine.

  • Managing finances may be challenging due to forgetting to pay bills on time, lost paperwork, late fees or debts arising from impulsive spending.

  • ADHD symptoms may put a strain on your work, love and family relationships. Loved ones may be continually nagging you to get organised and be more tidy or listen properly or they may feel hurt over insensitive comments you make or feel you are irresponsible.
Once you have an understanding of what your challenges are, you can seek help to use strategies to overcome and manage them.

However, outside intervention is not always necessary at the beginning as there are many ways in which you can help yourself immediately.

See the section ADHD Treatments for more detailed information and also follow these tips:
Time management is a real challenge for those with ADHD so it makes sense to incorporate the best time management techniques you can into your routine. Small changes can make a big difference to what you can achieve.
Schedule activities with friends and use a diary reminder system so you remember your appointments and don’t arrive late.

Be aware you may be interrupting or hogging conversations and try to listen to what others are saying and allow them to add to the conversation.
Find a career that motivates, interests you and allows your strengths to be used.

Partnerships with people who are highly organized, but perhaps less creative are mutually beneficial!

  • Find something you love doing
  • Allow yourself to fail a few times before you succeed
  • If you find a job boring – it may not be for you
  • Understand you may need an assistant or partner with detail orientation
  • Periodically brain dump – get your ideas out to lessen brain distraction
  • Use technology to help keep you on track
  • Prioritise and filter ideas
  • Know your own strengths and delegate your weaknesses
If you find that, despite helping yourself as above, the symptoms of ADHD are still preventing you from functioning optimally in life, you may be best seeking outside help.

Adults with ADHD can benefit from a number of treatments including behavioural psychology, individual or group therapy, biomedical investigations and treatments, support groups, vocation/life coaching, educational assistance and/or medication.

Treatment for adults with ADHD should include where possible/appropriate the person’s family members and/or spouse.

If you think you might have ADHD according the criteria in Getting a Diagnosis firstly read Conditions that Mimic ADHD and Co-Morbid Conditions then use the ADHD Directory to help you find a practitioner to help you with your next steps.

If you live in and around Sydney’s Northern Beaches please come along to one of our monthly ADHD speaker evenings to increase your knowledge.

You can find more information or book one of our events here.



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