Let me talk to you about why this series of articles is coming into being. It all started on July 28, when I decided that I would go live on my personal Facebook page discussing Adult ADHD. I have done so many live videos in the past on my mental health, that I didn’t think twice about it.
Then, July 29 at 4:15 p.m. I decided now was the time to act. So, I set up my phone and all of a sudden I was gripped with panic about the idea of going live. Two not so successful attempts later (since my husband says failed is the wrong word) where I panic stopped the live video, I am here, deciding on giving you an important FAQ article about Adult ADHD.
I’ve been very vocal about my ADHD journey on Facebook for a few months now, and I want to believe it’s doing something. Even if it’s just allowing me to briefly celebrate my own successes or give information as I learn it. My goal is to educate, advocate, and destigmatize, and that’s what I’m doing with this article.
So, let’s get started shall we?
What is ADHD?
ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and it effects executive function, emotional regulation, memory and focus. It’s a neurodevelopmental disorder, meaning that it has to do with the how our brains develop over time. Those of us with ADHD have vastly different brain development that impairs the ability to produce what we need to have proper memory, focus, emotions, learning abilities, and more. However, despite the name, ADHD is not necessarily a lack of attention or focus. People with ADHD still have the ability to focus and pay attention, it’s just they struggle to place that focus appropriately and to maintain that focus.
Are there multiple types of ADHD?
Yes! There are three types of ADHD: Predominantly Inattentive, Predominantly Hyperactive/Impulsive, and Combined. Combined is the most commonly diagnosed type of ADHD, meaning that the person being diagnosed meets the requirements for both Inattentive and Hyperactive/Impulsive.
What are the symptoms of each sub-type?
- Fidgeting or squirming
- Nonstop talking
- Trouble sitting still and doing quiet tasks, such as reading; or struggles to do tasks quietly
- Running from place to place; acting as if you are driven by a motor. Or, the constant need to be doing something and feeling restless when not doing something.
- Constantly leaving their seat, jumping or climbing on furniture or other inappropriate places (for adults, this may look more like an internal restlessness instead of actively leaving their seat)
- Not having patience, or trouble waiting their turn
- Blurting out comments at inappropriate times
- Interrupting conversations or speaking out of turn
- Trouble waiting for a turn or standing in line
- Missing details and becoming distracted easily
- Trouble focusing on the task at hand
- Becoming bored quickly
- Difficulty learning or organizing new information
- Trouble completing homework or losing items needed to stay on task (this also applies to office work for our jobs)
- Becoming confused easily or daydreaming frequently
- Seeming to not listen when spoken to directly
- Difficulty following instructions
- Processing information more slowly and with more mistakes than peers
How do you get a diagnosis?
In order to receive an ADHD diagnosis, the following criteria need to be met:
- For children 17 and younger, 6 out of 9 symptoms from either list (or 6 symptoms from each list for combined) must be present; for adults 18 or older, 5 out of 9 symptoms must be present.
- These symptoms must be present, consistently, for more than 6 months.
- The symptoms must have been present before the age of 12 years old.
- The symptoms cannot be explained by any other mood or personality disorder, or be better explained by physiological issues (like hormones, thyroid, etc).
- The symptoms must impact at least 2 out of 3 areas in their life: social, work/school, and home.
- The symptoms must be severe enough that they impact the person’s ability to function on a daily basis (ex: they struggle with losing jobs, making friends, or keeping relationships).
Typically, you can seek a diagnosis from either a general practitioner, clinical therapist, or a psychiatrist; I would recommend seeking a diagnosis from a therapist first but that’s my own personal opinion. A comprehensive background of your symptoms will be evaluated, and parents and/or spouses may be contacted to help gather information on your symptoms.
Does ADHD present itself differently in men and women?
Yes! A huge, resounding yes. To give you an idea on just how differently, it’s been found men are three times more likely to be diagnosed than women. Those percentages for adults have 12.9% of men being diagnosed, and a 4.9% of women. The reason for this is that men typically have more outward symptoms that result in behavioral issues; they are loud, can be defiant and get in to trouble much more often. Women, on the other hand, are typically more withdrawn, and typically they have fewer behavioral issues.
This is also because women are more likely to have the Predominantly Inattentive sub type, whereas men are more likely to be hyperactive/impulsive. This isn’t necessarily a black and white statistic but it does give us insight into why women tend to go undiagnosed longer than men, and just how women present differently than women.
Plus, it’s worth noting that women or period having individuals will likely see strange fluctuations in their symptoms due to how the hormones are produced during their cycle, but we’ll get to that more later.
What does ADHD actually look like?
While this answer will be different for everyone, I’ll explain what it looks like in me specifically. I have the Combined subtype of ADHD, but what brought me to therapy was my inattentive symptoms. I do believe my inattentive symptoms are the bigger headache in my life, but my hyperactive/impulsive symptoms do cause problems all the same.
For me, my ADHD looks like sitting around all day and not getting to my chores, and then being overwhelmed by the mess but not knowing how to start cleaning it up. It looks like putting off incredibly simple tasks because they seem like so much work, and then scrambling to get it done the night before the deadline so I don’t get in trouble or get fired. It looks like having 15 things to do, but instead deciding to hyperfocus on this thing I saw on Pinterest and spending the rest of my day buying a ton of craft items that by next week will just be clutter in my downstairs office.
It looks like being consistently 5-10 minutes late every day to work, despite the fact I live less than 5 minutes from my office and I’m awake by 8:00 a.m. every morning. It looks like forgetting appointments, scheduling something during the same time slot, realizing I double booked and trying to decide which one I can reschedule and/or cancel without seeming like a total flake… at least once a week. It’s my husband asking me something, and me comprehending absolutely nothing he said, and having to ask him what he said at least once a conversation.
It also looks like fighting sleep because going to bed is boring. It looks like restless legs, squirming in my seat, changing positions, or fidgeting with whatever I can get my hands on without realizing I’m doing it. It’s zoning out in conversation because the person I’m talking to said something interesting, and now I’m thinking about that one time in high school where the person did that thing that reminds me of that time last week where my dog went to that place and oh god what were they saying?
And ADHD looks like barely passing classes, or failing them and ending up in summer school every summer in high school. It looks like spending all day working on a project for work, just to submit it and have my boss look at me and go, “You spent all day working on this? How does it have so many errors? How does that happen?” Or realizing only after being called into your bosses office that somehow you printed half the church bulletins with the right information, and the other half of the bulletins with the information from 2 weeks ago because you had both files open at the same time and didn’t check before continuing to print the remaining files.
These examples are only a small snapshot of my life, but if you’d like to read more about what ADHD looks like for me, you can click here.
Is it possible I have ADHD but I just present differently?
I love this question because while ADHD does have a set number of symptoms that we all seem to share, just like mental health issues, all people experience them differently. While many people with ADHD are messy, cluttered people, some actually fall on the other end where their houses are consistently clean and they avoid clutter at all costs.
Many people with ADHD struggle with school, but not all. In fact, those with ADHD are found to have high IQs, and some people who have ADHD actually excel in school settings. Some will even graduate with honors, or be in the highest level of coursework.
While a lot of people with ADHD struggle with being late, other people can develop such an intense fear of being late that they slingshot themselves to the other extreme: being excessively early. To combat shame or feelings of guilt, some people with ADHD report showing up to events, work, or school, 30 minutes to 2 hours early.
Beyond all that, ADHD is made up if 9 symptoms from each subtype (or 18 if you’re combined). Even if two people share the same set of symptoms, the ones that cause them issues will be different. While some may struggle with little details, others may be proficient in editing, for example.
Most importantly, there are so many factors that go into why two people with the same issue present differently. In my case, I know my husband keeps me above water. Without him, I think my symptoms would be much more severe, but having him in my life provides structure and a sense of accountability for my actions. It’s much easier to avoid that impulse buy when I know I’d have to explain why I charged a couple hundred dollars to a credit card for a trampoline we don’t need to the guy who does our budgeting.
Is ADHD something that can be cured?
Sorry, but… no. And, if you do feel as if you cured your ADHD, there are only two ways this is possible. You either didn’t have ADHD to begin with, or you’re fooling yourself. ADHD is chronic, it’s truly a result of the fact your brain developed completely differently than those without ADHD. This means that you will have ADHD for the rest of your life, but the good news is there are ways to manage and cope with the symptoms and that can make things just slightly easier.
So, you can’t cure it. What does treatment look like for someone with ADHD then?
Well, for starters find a therapist who has a good grasp on Adult ADHD. Not all therapists will have the knowledge needed to help you with this, but you also don’t need to seek out an ADHD specialist either. Therapy is something that can help teach coping skills to help manage the frequently frustrating aspects of ADHD, like time management, motivation and even focus.
From there, medication can be prescribed and is usually quite effective for people with ADHD. Stimulants like Adderall, Vyvanse, Concerta, and Ritalin help by increasing production of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. These neurotransmitters are what help us with memory, focus and motivation, and stimulants work within 30-60 minutes of taking them, and are gone from your system very quickly as well. Nonstimulant medications such as Intuniv, Straterra and a few others take longer to build up in the system, but usually are less likely to cause the unwanted side effects of stimulants (and have an almost nonexistent chance of addiction).
Other ways to help manage your symptoms include changing your diet to reduce sugar, exercise, yoga and meditation (yes, this actually can help!), and taking vitamins (like Omega 3, for example).
Lastly, if you are in school, or perhaps in the workforce, accommodations can be made to help you achieve your best. Schools can provide IEP’s, and ADHD is recognized under the ADA, so working with your employer to determine what you need can be incredibly helpful to making work life simpler.
To avoid overwhelming and overloading the FAQ, and to save those ADHDers who struggle with reading (like I do), I’m splitting this article into multiple parts! Interested in the next part? Just click here and read on!
Until next time internet!
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