Do you think you might have ADHD, but aren’t quite sure? Sometimes, the signs are more subtle than you’d think.
If you’ve ever wondered whether you have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you’re not alone.
When many people hear the term “ADHD,” they often think of how it presents in children. They may not even know that ADHD also impacts adults.
In fact, the misconception that it doesn’t affect adults is part of the reason why ADHD is not effectively diagnosed after childhood. People with ADHD might not realize that the symptoms can be present into adulthood.
In fact, studies have shown that 50% to 80% of children with ADHD carry it on to adolescence, and another 35% to 65% then carry it into adulthood.
It was a common belief that ADHD disappeared in adulthood, and this was probably because ADHD looks different in adults than it does in children, and its symptoms were overlooked. The truth is, researchers believe that at least 75% of adults who have ADHD don’t even know that they have it.
So, what does it look like? Here are some of the subtle signs you may have ADHD.
One of the hallmarks of ADHD is “living in the now.” People with ADHD find it hard to keep track of time. They’re often late for appointments, can’t accurately estimate how long it will take for them to complete a task, and leave complicated tasks until the last minute. This is referred to as “time blindness.”
The reason this happens, according to
This is also the part of the brain that helps you plan for the future. It’s what allows you to prepare yourself for what’s coming next and plan how much time you have to realistically complete tasks.
If that part of the brain isn’t functioning properly, then you’re unable to accurately look into your future.
As a comparison, think of people who are nearsighted: They can only read things that are near to their face. Similarly, people with ADHD sometimes have difficulty anticipating and preparing for future events. The farther away an event is, the harder it is to deal with it.
For people with ADHD, time management isn’t the only difficulty. Other executive functioning skills can be challenging too, making it hard to manage the details of your life.
A person with ADHD will find it difficult to organize their thoughts and manage their schedule. You’ll likely also struggle with planning and prioritizing the order of tasks that you’re supposed to do, which can make it hard to meet deadlines.
While the level of executive functioning will vary from person to person, all folks with ADHD will find some challenges in each of the following categories when it comes to doing tasks or assignments:
- organizing, prioritizing, and getting started
- concentrating and staying focused, as well as shifting your attention to a new task
- staying alert, maintaining the same level of effort, and understanding what you’re doing
- managing your frustration and emotions
- holding and using multiple pieces of information at once, and remembering things you’ve read or learned
- controlling your actions
While we often hear that one of the key symptoms of ADHD is being easily distracted, one of the gifts of ADHD is the ability to hyperfocus on certain activities. Researchers believe the reason people with ADHD hyperfocus is because it’s difficult to switch from one task to the next.
People can generally hyperfocus on tasks they find enjoyable or are naturally motivated for. This is why some people with ADHD can play video games for hours but have difficulty completing a work assignment.
This ability to hyperfocus can also be very beneficial. Those same researchers also pointed out that hyperfocus allows your “creative genius to flourish.”
Many adults with ADHD change jobs more frequently than their colleagues.
There are several reasons for this, but the two most common reasons are that people with ADHD can find it too challenging to manage all of their workplace responsibilities at once, or they become bored with the routine or repetition of their job.
Researchers have also found that people with ADHD might also experience problems getting along with their boss or colleagues. This may be due to some of the more common ADHD symptoms, such as disorganization, impulsivity, and sensitivity to criticism, getting in the way of their job performance.
In addition, a
Can’t sit still to watch a TV show? Find yourself constantly fidgeting in your chair at work? Do you fold laundry or clean when you’re on the phone? That need to always be busy and doing something is the adult equivalent of hyperactivity that is common in kids with ADHD.
Adults aren’t typically as active as kids, so the constant movement that children with hyperactivity display is much more apparent than hyperactivity in adults with ADHD. The need to stay active is still there, it just looks different.
A very common symptom in adults with ADHD is something called rejection sensitive dysphoria. This means that the person is extremely sensitive emotionally. They’re so sensitive that when they receive criticism or feel rejected, it’s actually painful. They may also feel this pain if they don’t live up to their own expectations, or the expectations of others.
This can cause them to withdraw from friends and colleagues out of a fear of being hurt. It may also result in an impulsive, emotional response to actual or anticipated criticism or perceived rejection. They may get angry, feel rage, and blame the other person for causing their pain.
Compared to their peers, adults with ADHD often change friends more often than neurotypical adults. This is due to a combination of time blindness, emotional sensitivity, and difficulty staying focused in conversations with their friends. Combined, all of these symptoms can make maintaining friendships quite difficult.
People with ADHD can also struggle with romantic relationships, especially if their partner doesn’t understand what it’s like to have ADHD. These couples may encounter problems unique to having a partner who lives with ADHD, like forgetting anniversaries. This can put long-term stress on the relationship.
However, having an honest talk with your partner about how ADHD affects the relationship can help prepare you as a couple for the types of conflicts you may encounter down the road.
Adults with ADHD don’t always make good financial decisions and are less likely to see the value in saving their money. They tend to have more debt and less money saved for retirement. They also tend to spend money impulsively, even if they can’t really afford to make the purchase.
These money issues are due to several things:
- inability to pay attention to things they don’t like doing, like paying bills
- time blindness that makes planning for future financial decisions difficult
- lack of impulse control and spending without thinking
- difficulty getting and staying organized
If you’re experiencing some or all of these signs, you may have ADHD. The best way to determine if you have ADHD is to be evaluated by a mental health professional.
Receiving a diagnosis as an adult requires a different process than ADHD diagnosis in children. Your doctor or psychologist will have you complete an ADHD rating scale and ask you a number of questions. They’ll assess the history of your symptoms and whether these symptoms have had a significant negative impact on your work and relationships.
They may ask your permission to interview someone who knows you and your history well, such as your parent, partner, or someone who works with you, to get another perspective on your behaviors.
When diagnosing ADHD, your doctor will also rule out 16 conditions or groups of conditions that have symptoms similar to ADHD so that you’re not misdiagnosed. However, these can be diagnosed as co-occurring conditions. They include:
- anxiety disorder
- autism spectrum disorder
- conduct disorder
- developmental coordination disorder
- intellectual disability
- language disorder
- learning disorder
- mood disorder
- oppositional defiant disorder
- sleep disorder
- tic disorder
For someone diagnosed with adult ADHD, there are two forms of ADHD treatments available: medication and ADHD coaching or counseling. Most experts believe that these treatments should be combined in order for each one to work successfully.
With the proper medications and therapy, your symptoms can be treated and you can live a productive life.