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ADHD in Children Health Center

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Sharing a Diagnosis: When You and Your Child Have ADHD

ADHD in Children vs. Adults continued...

So what are the telltale adult ADHD symptoms?

  • Attention problems. Many adults with ADHD say that they’re easily distracted by noise or activity. But it’s not really that adults with ADHD actually have a deficit – a lack – of attention, says Adler. They may focus intensely on certain things that interest them but are less able to pay attention to tasks that are dull or too complex.
  • Disorganization & procrastination. Adults with ADHD often have trouble starting tasks and put them off until the last minute, regardless of the consequences. They run late and lose track of time.
  • Forgetfulness.  Some adults with ADHD lead obviously chaotic lives, forgetting and misplacing everything. Others may do well in most ways but get tripped up by details. An employee might do good work on a project, but then get in trouble for not filling out her timesheet. A college student might spend all night on a paper, but then forget to bring it to class.
  • Restlessness & impulsivity. Adults with ADHD may not be jumping around like hyperactive kids, but they could have other problems. They might make rash decisions or blurt out things without thinking. They might interrupt people because they have trouble waiting their turn to speak. They might fidget or bounce their knees when sitting.

Keep in mind that not everyone with ADHD will have all these symptoms. There’s also a lot of variation in the severity. Some people just have mild ADHD symptoms and do all right, while others will be severely impaired.

Impact of Adult ADHD

The consequences of adult attention deficit disorder are numerous. “ADHD has a ripple effect,” says Ramsay. “It impairs many aspects of your life, from your relationship with your spouse, to your role as a parent, to your job.” The results can be serious.

“ADHD is not a benign disorder,” says Adler. He points out that adults with ADHD have higher rates of divorce, unemployment, substance abuse, and even car accidents.

“The effects of ADHD even extend to the pocketbook,” says James McCracken, MD, director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at UCLA’s Semel Institute in Los Angeles.  “When compared with people who have the same type of jobs, adults with ADHD make significantly less money.”

But most of these adults never get an ADHD diagnosis. Many don’t consider the possibility, so they never ask about it. Doctors may not help much, either.

“Unfortunately, more or less the entire medical and professional community – internists, adult psychiatrists and psychologists – have almost no background in the diagnosis or treatment of adult ADHD,” says McCracken. As a result, the majority are never diagnosed, and fewer than three out of four adults with ADHD are getting any treatment.

So what happens to these people? They may try to get help, but wind up misdiagnosed. They may be prescribed antidepressants or anti-anxiety medicines. In some cases, these drugs may help a bit -- many people with ADHD have overlapping depression or anxiety. Others might be told by their doctors to go into counseling – maybe for job skills training or couples therapy. But in all of these cases, the core underlying problem is missed.

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