If you have long-suspected that you have trouble maintaining concentration for longer periods of time, are easily distracted, daydreaming, or have difficulty with doing work that requires sustained attention without complete silence or the need to the move around, it is possible you have ADHD. For adults, it is those who have been under-performing in school (usually college or post-graduate work) or at their job that are likely to notice the impact of attention difficulties.  This article focuses on the diagnosis of ADHD in adulthood, but make no mistake about it: to be diagnosed with adult ADHD, a person must sufficiently demonstrate signs and symptoms of the disorder in childhood.

When it comes to adults being tested for ADHD, some people are confused as to why a person would not know they have ADHD prior to adulthood. Some common questions I am asked include:

  • “Aren’t only kids diagnosed with that?”
  • “Isn’t ADHD a childhood disorder?”
  • “Can adults even have ADHD?”

Well, put simply, the answer is “no” to the first two questions and “yes” to the last question. ADHD is a disorder that starts in childhood, and therefore that must be present in childhood in order to determine an adulthood diagnosis; but many children who are even suspected of having ADHD are not formally evaluated and therefore, are not diagnosed with the disorder. The trouble with not being evaluated when there are clear indications of ADHD lies mostly in the fact that the child is likely to continue having educational and social difficulties that could otherwise be helped.  However, there are two sides to this, as it is also very often the case that what some adults perceive as maladaptive inattention or hyperactivity is simply a product of a child being an active child; in this case, it is not ADHD but rather prototypical behavior for a child. The only true way to know is for parents to have their child undergo a thorough evaluation with a psychologist.

ADHD is a childhood disorder in that symptoms must be present at age 12 or earlier for at least six months, however this does not mean that ADHD difficulties “go away” or do not continue to impact a person as they get older. Such difficulties, particularly if left untreated, are just as likely to create difficulties as a person gets older, and specifically in higher education or their career. So, yes, adults can have ADHD, but ADHD does not first form in adulthood.

Types of ADHD

Predominantly Inattentive

This type of ADHD is defined by primarily having difficulties sustaining attention for sustained periods of time, becoming easily distracted by noises or peripheral stimuli, difficulty staying organized or remembering instructions, poor attention to detail, losing items, and forgetfulness.

Predominantly Hyperactive

The hyperactive type is fidgety, talkative, interrupts others, has difficulty waiting their turn, moves around often and particularly at times when such behavior is not appropriate, and may feel and display restlessness.

 

Combined presentation
This one is what it sounds like: the presence of both inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms, for at least six months.
{Note: The symptoms of ADHD can mimic those of anxiety, so it is possible to be misdiagnosed with anxiety when in fact ADHD is really the cause of one’s difficulties. Ensure you are being evaluated by a trained professional who is knowledgable about differential diagnosis.}

Getting Evaluated

If you have had lifelong difficulties with being able to pay attention and focus on your work, it is very possible that you may have ADHD that has never been formally evaluated and diagnosed. This can explain many of the attention difficulties that you experience present day in your adult life. Many college students come to my office presenting with difficulties studying, doing well on tests, making careless mistakes in their work, having social problems, and feeling unmotivated to try harder due to their efforts not seeming useful. Along the same lines, professionals call me with reports of difficulties at work and wondering if ADHD could be the reason they are not performing at a certain level.

An ADHD evaluation conducted by a trained psychologist involves multiple steps and multiple hours, but can yield results that may explain your academic or occupational difficulties. Having that information is vital, as you are then able to learn strategies for improving your performance in the presence of ADHD. Additionally, if you are in college, you can work with your school to receive educational accommodations, such as more time, preferred seating, and other resources to complete tasks and tests. These resources can prove invaluable and may significantly help improve your performance. If you suspect you have ADHD, obtaining a formal evaluation can prove to be incredibly useful.

We’re Here to help

At Tampa Therapy, we provide various psychological testing services, including diagnostic assessment, educational assessment (LD, ADHD, IQ testing), personality assessment, and PTSD/trauma-specific assessment. The value of testing is endless. It can be validating, reinforcing, eye-opening, and most importantly, life-altering. Whatever your reason, give us a call to discuss your interest in receiving an evaluation.  Dr. Barbash is a trained and licensed psychologist who is experienced in providing ADHD testing.  At Tampa Therapy, we are committed to providing a relaxing, healing, and non-judgmental environment to support you on your journey.  If you want things to be different, you have to change them.  Give us a call today to start the process of obtaining greater self-understanding and making important changes in your life.

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