Diagnosing Adult ADHD

May 24, 2011

ADHD is often thought of as a childhood disorder but that is a myth. As many as 60% of children with ADHD will carry their disorder into adulthood.  That means that as many as 4% of adults have ADHD.  The symptoms of ADHD in adults are  different from those in children.  An adult with ADHD might have trouble focusing and “zone out” in the middle of conversations without realizing, have a difficult time paying attention while reading a book or listening to others, struggle to complete even simple tasks, have a tendency to overlook details, and have a difficult time following directions.  Interestingly enough a person with ADHD might overcompensate by hyperfocusing, which is a way of tuning out the chaos around him.  This is when the person becomes completely oblivious to the things surrounding him and focuses exclusively on the one thing he is doing, like reading a book for example.  This becomes problematic when he begins to neglect what he is supposed to be doing because he is too engrossed in what he is busy with.  An adult with ADHD might have poor organizational skills, procrastinate, have trouble starting and completing projects, forget appointments, and constantly misplace things. Most adults with ADHD are not hyperactive (as opposed to children with ADHD) but of those who are their symptoms involve being risk takers, becoming easily bored, and doing a million things at once.  An adult with ADHD might also have emotional difficulties such as a sense of underachievement, low self esteem, and trouble taking criticism.

If you are an adult who isn’t sure if he needs an ADHD evaluation ask yourself the following questions:

1.  Do you have an inconsistent job history?  Do you lose or quit jobs frequently?

2.  Do you have a history of academic underachievement?

3.  Do you have difficulty managing day to day activities (paying bills, household chores etc.)

4.  Do you have relationship problems due your inability to remember things, complete tasks, temper etc.?

5.  Due you have chronic stress over your inability to complete tasks and meet responsibilities?

If you decide to go through with an ADHD evaluation it is important to come prepared.  Try to bring old school records, reports from previous psychological testing, and any job evaluations that you might have.  Many doctors will provide you with a questionnaires to fill out prior to your appointment.  You will also be asked to bring a significant other with you to be interviewed by the doctor.

The most important part of the appointment will be the interview in which the doctor will ask you a series of questions in order to determine whether or not you fit the diagnostic criteria for ADHD (those criteria are set out by the DSM-IV-TR.  See my article on “Diagnosing Children with ADHD” for a description of the criteria).  The doctor will question you about your developmental history, childhood, academic history, family, marital history, and medical history.  The doctor will also try to rule out other disorders that resemble ADHD or co-exist with ADHD.  Studies have shown that it is quite common to find other co-existing disorders with ADHD such as anxiety, depression, learning disabilities, and substance abuse, and it important to treat all co-existing disorders.

Next the doctor will interview your significant other in order to get a wider perspective of the situation.  Often people with ADHD have incomplete memories of their childhood and a have a limited awareness as to how their behavior affects others.  It is important for the doctor to get the full perspective of the situation.

Following all the necessary interviews the doctor will perform a medical exam if you have not had one within the past 6-12 months, in order  to rule out other possible medical causes for your condition such as seizure disorders or thyroid disease, both of which can resemble ADHD.  Once all the information has been gathered the doctor can assemble it and make his diagnosis with a recommendation for treatment.

 As an adult it can be difficult to make that first step and call your doctor for an ADHD evaluation.  But if you suspect that you have ADHD getting diagnosed is an important first step.  Once you have identified the problem you can begin to learn how to deal with it.