It is currently thought that 4% of the US adult population (approximately eight million adults) could be classified and diagnosed as adults with ADHD. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is currently the most well-recognized childhood developmental disorder; it is now known that about 60% of children with ADHD will continue demonstrating symptoms into adulthood. However, fewer adults are identified as having ADHD and are therefore not treated.
Adults with ADHD might find it challenging following directions, remembering information, concentrating, organizing tasks or completing work within time limits. If these difficulties are not appropriately managed, they can cause associated behavioural, emotional, social, vocational and academic problems.
Adults with ADHD – A Snapshot
Adults with ADHD may demonstrate the following behaviours and problems either as a direct result of having ADHD or as an indirect effect of dealing with the disorder.
- Chronic lateness and forgetfulness.
- Low self-esteem.
- Employment problems.
- Difficulty controlling anger.
- Substance abuse or addiction.
- Poor organization skills.
- Low frustration tolerance.
- Chronic boredom.
- Difficulty concentrating when reading.
- Mood swings.
- Relationship problems.
Adults with ADHD are individuals; therefore the above behaviours and problems may be mild or they may be severe, or they may be present only some of the time or not at all. For example, some people might be able to focus on a task or on a conversation that they find interesting quite well, while others may find it challenging to focus regardless of the circumstances. Likewise, some adults with ADHD seek out external stimulation while others prefer to avoid such situations. Some are incredibly social and enjoy being around people all the time, and yet others prefer to be alone and might even appear withdrawn or cold. Each individual is unique.
It is well known that people with ADHD will have an incredibly difficult time focusing. However, it is slightly less well known that sometimes they also have the ability to “hyperfocus,” becoming incredibly absorbed in activities that are stimulating or rewarding.
While hyperfocus may at times be a positive thing, it can also be detrimental when it becomes a distraction. They may become so focused and involved in a project or activity that they will fail to answer the phone, lose track of the time, miss appointments, and so on.
Disorganization and Forgetfulness
Adults with ADHD have an incredibly difficult time staying organized. Managing time, sorting out what is needed for a project, keeping track of tasks and responsibilities, and prioritizing tasks can seem overwhelming and unattainable. This can often leave a person feeling that life is chaotic and out of control.
Persons with ADHD often find it a challenge to inhibit their behaviour, comments and responses to what is expected or what would be socially appropriate. Oftentimes they find themselves speaking before thinking, or acting without considering the consequences. Interrupting others, blurting out comments, and rushing through tasks without first stopping to read the instructions are all common occurrences for adults with ADHD.
Managing feelings and emotions can be a constant source of frustration for adults battling ADHD, especially if the emotions under control are frustration or anger. Oftentimes these individuals find it difficult to stay motivated, they experience low self-esteem and a sense of underachievement, are hypersensitive to criticism, demonstrate short and explosive tempers, are easily flustered or stressed out, and are often irritable with multiple mood swings.
Hyperactivity and restlessness will not look the same in adults with ADHD as it will with children, though it may be experienced the same for the individual. Feelings of being constantly “on the go” and having a constant source of energy can be frustrating if not found in the correct situation (a staff meeting, for example).
Adults with ADHD might have a history of poorer educational performance and may have been classified as underachievers. In no way is this typically a reflection of the person’s intellectual abilities, but rather their inability to focus on and stay organized. These people may have had more incidents with disciplinary actions (detentions, time-outs, etc.) due to their impulsive behaviour in the classroom, and they might have even had to repeat a grade in the past or may have dropped out at school altogether.
Adults with ADHD are typically seen to change employers frequently and perform poorly on the job. Most times this is not related to their work ethic or ability to perform well at a job, but rather the inability to sustain attention on a task that is boring, repetitive or tedious. They may have had fewer occupational achievements, often due to the incredible distractibility that they struggle with on a daily basis.
Adults with ADHD in general tend to have a lower socioeconomic status, usually related to the work-related difficulties that they encounter. Sometimes they have more driving violations such as being pulled over or ticketed for speeding, having their licences suspended, and being involved in more crashes. They also seem to use illegal substances more frequently, smoke cigarettes, and self-report psychological maladjustment more often than an individual in the general populace.
People with ADHD typically have more marital problems than for an individual in the general populace, and are more likely to have multiple marriages as the incidence rates of separation and divorce are higher for adults with ADHD.
The Good News
While most adults with ADHD never outgrow the impairments, they do learn to adapt. It is important to remember that the majority of the functional impairments diminish with correct treatment, and it is possible for someone that has ADHD to function just as successfully as a normal individual.