Do I Have Adult ADHD?

Do I Have Adult ADHD?

We used to think that children with ADHD “outgrew” it. Now we know most children with ADHD grow up to be adults with ADHD–and most of them have no physical hyperactivity.  (Many had no hyperactivity in childhood, either.)

Especially in this tough economy, unrecognized ADHD can thwart your efforts in school, on the job, and even in relationships. So, if you have ADHD, it’s worth knowing about it now so you can take solid steps to reduce your obstacles to a happier, more fulfilling life.
What are the common ADHD traits in adults? Consider the three current official sub-types of Adult Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD):

* ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Type. This person has trouble paying attention, getting organized, and ignoring distractions but can have little trouble sitting still. Instead of physical hyperactivity, there’s a more “sluggish” tempo, but there can still be less-obvious mental restlessness.

* ADHD, Predominantly Hyperactive/Impulsive Type. This person has difficulty sitting still and thinking through consequences before acting but finds it easier to focus than the person with the Inattentive type. This is the least common type among adults.

* ADHD, Combined Type. This person exhibits both previous sets of traits, including problems with sustaining attention, avoiding distractions, thinking before acting, and sitting still. This is the most common type.

“Is There a Simple Test for ADHD?”

There is no single test to evaluate for (ADHD). That means no simple online test, no blood test and no genetic test. That doesn’t make ADHD a “squishy” diagnosis, though. Far from it. A large body of peer-reviewed research supports ADHD as a valid medical diagnosis, and so do all medical professional organizations.

Adult ADHD is, however, considered a syndrome: that is, a condition with multiple symptoms that vary among the individuals who have it. Other well-recognized medical syndromes range from Reye’s Syndrome to Diabetes Type II.

The fact that Adult ADHD is a syndrome simply means that the diagnosis must be done with care; there are no “cookie cutter” answers. Finding out if you have Adult ADHD requires consulting with a qualified mental health professional; this person can evaluate your history and current challenges to see if you meet the official criteria outlined in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual.  

What counts most of all is one factor: Are you suffering impairments in any area of life? If there is no area of life where you are experiencing significant ADHD-related challenges–such as with relationships, employment, education, sexual intimacy, or finances–you do not qualify for a diagnosis.

“What Should I Know Before I Seek an Evaluation for Adult ADHD?”

Here are some points to understand before you select a professional to conduct an evaluation for Adult ADHD:

* Adult ADHD symptoms represent an extreme on a continuum of human behavior, much like IQ, weight, or height. To ascertain if a person is “over the line” on this continuum, the evaluating professional must gauge the severity of the symptoms and, most of all, impairment.
* The human brain is extremely complicated. Living with unrecognized ADHD over a long period of time can increase the odds of having a coexisting condition such as anxiety, depression, or substance use disorder.  It’s important to detect the co-existing conditions before embarking on a treatment plan.
* Adult ADHD is often misdiagnosed as depression or anxiety. Some clinicians fail to understand that depression or anxiety might be caused or at least exacerbated by the underlying, untreated ADHD.  This is important, because standard treatments for anxiety or depression (such as certain antidepressants) can actually worsen ADHD symptoms.
* Adults with ADHD typically have no obvious physical hyperactivity. In years past, ADHD was considered a disruptive order of childhood, and its diagnosis was based on observing overt behavior (usually physical hyperactivity).  That means many people fell through the cracks, and only later in life do they discover they have ADHD. Today we know that many people, especially adults, have no obvious physical hyperactivity but instead might have more mental restlessness.
* ADHD can adversely affect relationships, presenting greater-than-average risk of divorce, relationship breakups, absentee parenting, sexual difficulties, and familial estrangement. If ADHD is suspected, it’s good to pursue an evaluation before spending time and money on couples counseling or family therapy.
* Some physical conditions can mimic ADHD symptoms.  Ask your personal physician to first perform a thorough physical exam to rule out conditions that can affect brain function or limit medication choices (such as thyroid, diabetes, or cardiovascular issues).

For all these reasons, it’s wise to make sure you understand the diagnostic process, in general terms, before selecting a professional to conduct an evaluation.

“Who Conducts the Evaluation for Adult ADHD?”

Several types of professionals can make the Adult ADHD diagnosis, including physicians, psychologists, and masters-degree therapists. You want to identify a professional who is:
* Closely familiar with Adult ADHD symptoms
* Knowledgeable and diligent about collecting the pertinent data
* Able to listen closely and ask perceptive questions
* Appropriately licensed or certified for treating ADHD and can distinguish ADHD from other physical or psychological disorders
* Compassionate and caring

If your family physician cannot make a confident referral, contact the closest university teaching hospital.

“What is the Evaluation Process?”

In a nutshell, this is the process:

1.  Data-gathering and interview: The evaluating professional gathers data from sources that include     
* Symptom checklists. Ideally, these are sent by mail to the client well ahead of time, to allow time for thoughtful completion.
* Third-party input. Family members or others in close relationship typically are asked to provide information on the patient’s history and current challenges; that’s because ADHD symptoms often limit or distort recall and self-observation.
* A detailed life history. This includes any head injuries (even “minor” ones) and childhood report cards, if available.

2. Analysis: The professional then compares reported symptoms to the diagnostic criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

This article by award-winning journalist and Adult ADHD expert Gina Pera is adapted from her bestselling book Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.? – a comprehensive guide to understanding Adult ADHD symptoms and its treatment strategies, especially as they affect relationships.
Visit Gina Pera’s blog for more information on Adult ADHD, the official criteria by which the Adult ADHD diagnosis is made, and surprising link between ADHD and sex. You’ll also find free excerpts from her award-winning book.

Reproduction permitted only when all active hyperlinks are included. 2010 All rights reserved Gina Pera.

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