If you've been asking yourself this question, you 're not alone. The apparent rise in adult ADHD diagnoses over recent years has been sparked by increased attention on the disorder and its impacting features. Indeed, studies are showing that a number of adults are now being diagnosed with ADHD, often overlooked in their childhood*.
It's not just about being restless and disorganised; it's about facing real challenges in daily functioning and wellbeing. So, if you're often misplacing items, struggling with deadlines, or feeling overwhelmed by routine tasks, this blog is for you.
We'll delve into the key signs of adult ADHD and provide practical steps to explore this further, including some pointers on getting tested.
What is ADHD?
ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a neurodevelopmental condition related to how the brain develops its neurological pathways.
This development affects crucial functions responsible for attention, thinking, planning, organisation and self-control.
In practical terms, ADHD might manifest as challenges in all of these areas and affect one's ability to adequately function across work, academic settings, personal relationships, social interactions and roles at home.
ADHD can also have a profound emotional impact, influencing self-esteem and emotional regulation. It is not uncommon for symptoms of anxiety, depression and irritability to also co-occur.
These mood challenges can result as a consequence of the ongoing struggles that ADHD creates, such as chronic disorganisation, underperformance at work or in academic settings, and interpersonal misunderstandings.
Naturally, the frustration and stress arising from these difficulties often exacerbate feelings of depression and anxiety, leading to an ongoing interplay between ADHD and emotional health.
Importantly, understanding ADHD requires a shift from seeing it as binary condition (one that is either present or absent), to recognising it as a spectrum disorder. This means that symptoms can vary in severity and type from one person to another, and may even change (or manifest differently) throughout one's lifetime.
Additionally, the level of impact symptoms have on a person's functioning and ability to fulfil responsibilities may also vary.
What are the main symptoms of ADHD?
Symptoms of ADHD typically manifest before the age of 12 and can persist well into adulthood, although they may not always be recognised until later.
The most common challenges include maintaining focus and/or managing hyperactivity and impulsive behaviour.
There are three main types:
Inattentive Type - characterised by difficulties with concentration and staying focused, frequent forgetfulness, a tendency to lose things and challenges in organising activities and tasks.
Hyperactive/Impulsive Type - individuals with this type often find it hard to sit still for extended periods of time, engage in quiet activities or waiting for their turn. Symptoms include restlessness, constant movement or fidgeting (like tapping), excessive talking, and acting or speaking without thinking. There are also challenges with impulsivity, such as interrupting others and difficulty in delaying gratification.
Combined Type - characterised by the presence of both inattention and hyperactive/impulsive symptoms, manifesting as a blend of the challenges described above.
Adult ADHD often remains undiagnosed, as many individuals have developed their own management strategies, leading them to achieve relative success in their academic or career endeavours.
Additionally, some might be considered 'high functioning' as their symptoms are relatively mild or don't cause severe disruptions to their daily routines. However, they may still face challenges in certain areas (e.g., time management, focus and organisation) and require 'work-arounds' to maintain adequate levels of achievement.
How is ADHD treated?
The constant effort to manage ADHD in a society that doesn't always accommodate its challenges can take a toll on mental health. Furthermore, not everyone has a supportive environment, such as an understanding boss, patient family members, or control over deadlines.
As such, treatment is more about learning and adopting the right management tools tailored for individual circumstances and making changes where you can.
A holistic approach is recommended and may include the following:
psychological interventions, like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), to address unhelpful thinking and behaviour patterns
neurofeedback, attention training and mindfulness strategies to improve attention levels and stay 'on-task'
lifestyle adjustments to foster a balanced and healthy routine
skills training for effective time management and organisational practices
environmental modifications to improve conditions at work, home or in academic settings
social and professional supports to build a strong support network
addressing any comorbid conditions such as anxiety, depression or substance use
the use of stimulant medication, where appropriate, to help improve inattention and reduce symptoms of hyperactivity or impulsivity
Importantly, effective management of ADHD typically requires the collaboration of a diverse team of healthcare professionals. This could include a GP, psychologist, career or health coach, and a psychiatrist.
There is also evidence supporting the role of dietary and supplement interventions for improving brain function, which can be beneficial for individuals with ADHD. In this context, consulting with a nutritionist or health scientist could be advantageous.
Ongoing management and regular review with a professional team is crucial for successful long-term outcomes. ADHD management is not a one-time solution, but a dynamic process that should be personalised and adapted to meet the evolving needs of the individual.
What are my next steps?
If you suspect you have ADHD, the first step is to undergo a professional evaluation. A psychologist can screen for ADHD symptoms and conduct detailed testing to assess the likelihood of a diagnosis. They can provide initial insights and guide you through the diagnostic process.
Your GP can also refer you to a psychiatrist for additional clinical evaluation and to discuss the possible role of any medications, if deemed appropriate.
When selecting a healthcare provider for testing or ongoing management, it's essential to confirm that they have the necessary qualifications and specific experience working with ADHD.
This is critical for not just ensuring an accurate diagnosis, but also for the development of a treatment plan that is precisely tailored to individual needs. Working with healthcare professionals who lack specific expertise in ADHD can lead to misdiagnosis or ineffective treatment strategies.
Here at Nexus Clinical and Forensic Psychology, we offer a convenient and accessible online screening and testing service, which can be completed without the need for an in-person consultation.
This service utilises validated measures designed to detect and assess the presence of ADHD symptoms.
The testing process includes a thorough evaluation, scoring, and interpretation of symptoms based on their severity and type. Following the tests, clients receive a professional and personalised report.
This detailed report can be presented to a GP, Psychiatrist or other healthcare professional for further discussion, assessment and/or the development of an appropriate treatment plan.
This streamlined approach ensures that individuals seeking answers about ADHD can do so with ease, clarity and accuracy.
There is no waitlist for this service and you can book here.
For further details about our adult ADHD online testing, check out our Adult ADHD Online Assessment Information
Abdelnour, E., Jansen, M. O., & Gold, J. A. (2022). ADHD Diagnostic Trends: Increased Recognition or Overdiagnosis?. Missouri medicine, 119(5), 467–473. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9616454/
*Rivas-Vazquez, R.A., Diaz, S.G., Visser, M.M. et al. Adult ADHD: Underdiagnosis of a Treatable Condition. J Health Serv Psychol 49, 11–19 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42843-023-00077-w
By Katherine Hurrell, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist, Sydney, Australia