You’ve no doubt heard of ADHD. It probably brings to mind an image of kids who find it tricker to pay attention in school, who are hyperactive or more impulsive than their peers. But it’s a condition that affects adults too. While there’s no such thing as adult onset ADHD, a growing awareness of the condition means more and more adults are identifying with symptoms that they’d previously put down to personality quirks. The spotlight on ADHD is suddenly making us pay attention to things like trouble with our own schooling, our frustrations with completing a project despite knowing we’ve got the skills and time and our tendency to speak over others. This ADHD Awareness Month, we wanted to shine a light on Adult ADHD.
ADHD can manifest in loads of different ways. From making it difficult to organise tasks, follow direction or remember information to making people procrastinate on a project while a deadline is looming and impacting focus or concentration, there are so many ways it impacts the every day. It can also coincide with other challenges such as anxiety, depression, anger control, impulsiveness, low self-esteem, mood swings, relationship problems and low motivation, amongst other things. Every adult who has ADHD had it as a child, but they might not know it. About 60% of those who have ADHD as kids still have it as adults. Some may have been diagnosed and know about it. Some may only find out later in life.
While ADHD is primarily associated with kids, it’s been getting a lot of attention lately, especially in relation to how it impacts adults – namely how it presents differently in women and how that can impact them in numerous different aspects of their lives. Thanks in part to people discussing their symptoms and diagnoses on social media, breaking down stigma in the process, people are beginning to wonder if their ongoing struggles with organisation, productivity, forgetfulness and self-doubt may not actually be down to laziness as they’d previously told themselves. Adult ADHD is making its way into our awareness and for many, it’s a massive relief to put a name to things they’ve long shamed themselves for. So what do we need to know about Adult ADHD?
According to the NHS, “The symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be categorised into 2 types of behavioural problems: inattentiveness, and hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Most people with ADHD have problems that fall into both these categories, but this is not always the case. For example, some people with the condition may have problems with inattentiveness, but not with hyperactivity or impulsiveness.”
But lack of research into adults with ADHD means that the symptoms are harder to define. The inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness seen in children isn’t reflected in adults quite the same. Hyperactivity tends to decrease, while inattentiveness tends to worsen with the pressures of adult life and other symptoms tend to be far more subtle.
In adults, some specialists have suggested symptoms associated with ADHD in adults include:
- carelessness and lack of attention to detail
- regularly starting new tasks before finishing old ones
- poor organisational skills
- inability to focus or prioritise
- continually losing or misplacing things
- restlessness and edginess
- difficulty keeping quiet and speaking out of turn
- blurting out responses and often interrupting others
- mood swings, irritability and a quick temper
- inability to deal with stress
- extreme impatience
- taking more risks, like driving dangerously
So if the symptoms of adult ADHD are harder to define, how do we get a diagnosis? The truth is, it’s tricky. Speaking to ITV, Dr Tony Lloyd from the ADHD Foundation said: “It’s very difficult to get a diagnosis as an adult in the UK on the NHS and in many parts of the country the waiting list is over five years. That’s not good if you’re in crisis. So for many people, the only option is to seek a private assessment but it’s not just about medication, it’s about understanding what it is and all the things you can do to manage it successfully.”
As a first step, if you think you might have adult ADHD, it can be useful to learn about the condition and take a (non diagnostic) screening test, similar to that provided on websites like ADHD.co.uk. Journalist Robyn Wilder, who got an ADHD diagnosis in her 40’s, printed off the NHS symptoms list for Adult ADHD, and “wrote down every memory I could think of, of a time I’d displayed one of the symptoms outlined”, then made a list of how each of these instances were impacting her life. Adult ADHD can only be diagnosed by a psychologist, so you’ll need to speak to your GP about being referred to the right place. It’s worth asking how long the waiting list is, so you can consider your options if you need to. Your GP should support you to explore any other mental health issues you might be experiencing while you’re waiting for any referrals.
Once you’re referred to the specialist, you’ll have an overall mental health assessment which may involve a discussion with a psychiatrist. This will likely look at ADHD, but will probably explore other issues too. Following your assessment your clinician will let you know what the next stage is. If you’re diagnosed with ADHD, you’ll be asked to consider medication options and may be referred back to your GP for shared management.
Many, many people live with adult ADHD and manage it successfully. Simone Biles, Jamie Oliver, Solange Knowles, Emma Watson, Michael Phelps and Channing Tatum are just a few famous faces who have been diagnosed with ADHD. But there are none famous faces living incredible lives with ADHD too. ADHD can be treated using medicine or therapy, but a combination of both is often best. Medicine isn’t a cure for ADHD but it can help people feel more focused, less impulsive, calmer and more able to face everyday challenges.
Different therapies too can be effective in treating and managing ADHD. Psychoeducation, helping you discuss make sense of your diagnosis can be useful, while talking therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy (aka CBT) can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. A therapist would try to change how you feel about a situation, which would in turn potentially change your behaviour. CBT is great for helping stop your thoughts from snowballing and managing some of the other conditions that can go hand in hand with ADHD.
Other ways to manage ADHD
If you think you have ADHD or are awaiting diagnosis, there are a few things you can try to help look after yourself:
The NHS suggests that some people may notice a link between certain foods and a worsening in their ADHD symptoms. While anyone with ADHD should eat a healthy balanced diet (we all should!), it can be really useful to keep a diary if you notice certain foods seem to make symptoms worse. Keep a note of what you eat and what behaviour follows, then chat to your GP. They might refer you to a specialist for more support.
There is some thought that supplements, including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids may help people with ADHD, but the supporting evidence for this is pretty limited. Some supplements can interact negatively with medication so you should chat to your GP before you decide to start taking anything new.
Creating healthy habits is a really good way to manage adult ADHD too. While you’ve likely been telling yourself for a really long time that you’re lazy or messy or useless, it’s simply not true. Taking control of your environment is a good way to combat this negative voice. Use a calendar or app to plan your time, use lists to organise your tasks and deal with things straight away whenever you can.
One of the things that comes with the territory of ADHD is that you’re often creative and full of brilliant, beautiful big ideas. But these can clutter the day to day. Saving these for later by jotting them down can be a great way to make sure you don’t loose ’em but they don’t distract you from the job at hand either.
Relaxation techniques can be a great way to steady your mind when you’re feeling overstimulated too. Simple breathing techniques and regular (yep we’re going to say it) meditation and mindfulness have been proven to help manage ADHD as well.
Sleep deprivation can increase symptoms of adult ADHD, reducing your ability to cope with stress and maintain focus during the day. Simple changes to daytime habits go a long way toward ensuring solid nightly sleep. Avoid caffeine late in the day, exercise regularly and create a good bedtime routine to help you get a good night’s sleep.
Whether you’ve recently been diagnosed with adult ADHD, are awaiting a diagnosis, or this post has just hit you like a train to the chest and you’re suddenly connecting dots you didn’t even know were there, know that with the right support, things can and will get easier. And none of this has an impact on your ability to be an incredible parent. You’re already doing great at that – even with all the extra challenges you’re juggling.
If you’re looking for more to read, these resources are a great place to start…
If you think you may have ADHD, this will help – Clementine
ADHD in adults – WebMD
Adult ADHD – Healthline
ADHD in Women – MindBodyGreen
What Adult ADHD Feels Like – Psychology Today
What It’s Like Being a Mum with ADHD – NetMums