While ADHD is something typically associated with children, there are an increasing number of adults being diagnosed with ADHD. Even though their clinical history reveals that symptoms are present in childhood (before age 12), for various reasons they go undiagnosed.
In fact, many people with ADHD are diagnosed with another condition, such as depression or anxiety, and the underlying ADHD is not detected. There is significant symptom overlap between ADHD and other conditions; for example, people with anxiety can struggle to concentrate and feel restless or agitated, and people with depression can struggle to complete daily activities.
The typical symptoms of ADHD include inattentiveness (distractibility, unfocused, forgetful) and hyperactivity (fidgety and restless, prone to interrupting others).
ADHD-ers experience difficulties with “executive” skills; complex cognitive functions such as forward planning, organisation, time management, impulse control, and decision-making, to name a few.
These difficulties make it hard to learn and retain information, revise for exams, remember appointments and deadlines, and be punctual for work – leading to problems with educational achievement or maintaining employment.
Some ADHD-ers have been able to compensate for their executive difficulties by developing strategies, such as keeping meticulous to-do lists and calendars, or by relying on their strong capabilities in other areas, such as language comprehension. However, daily life can be exhausting for such individuals, who may then find themselves overwhelmed and burnt out, or turning to food, drugs, or alcohol to cope.
Due to the overlap between ADHD and other conditions, diagnosis involves detecting the presence of ADHD symptoms, as well as acquiring detailed information about the onset, progression, and impact of those symptoms. A key distinction of ADHD is its onset before age 12, and its functional impact on social, emotional, and/or academic development.
Adult diagnosis of ADHD is still relatively new, and there is currently no universal standard for its diagnosis by mental health professionals. Psychologists and psychiatrists utilise standardised behaviour questionnaires to ascertain ADHD symptoms, and, alongside clinical history, can make a diagnosis. Self-diagnosis is increasingly common, especially with the plethora of information available online.
Everyone with ADHD experiences it uniquely, and supporting ADHD-ers requires a targeted approach to developing strategies that will work for the individual person.
Useful tips for ADHD
- For people who struggle with distractibility, it’s often necessary to keep external distractions to a minimum. Tools such as noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs can be helpful for reducing overall noise, whereas others may benefit from white noise or music to create a sustained level of ambient sound. For those who struggle with too much visual clutter, it can be helpful to keep only essential items within view, and store others out of sight. Digital devices can be extremely distracting, so switching them off or disabling app notification can be helpful.
- Internal distractions can also be difficult for ADHD-ers. Having a small piece of paper and pen handy for jotting down those unexpected persistent thoughts (e.g. “I need to buy more apples”). By jotting them down, we take them out of our brain and reduce their impact. To reduce a persistent stream of noisy thoughts, it can be helpful to spend 10-15 minutes writing them all down (like a brain dump) to clear them from our mind, even if it’s temporarily.
- Forgetfulness can be a big challenge for ADHD-ers, which can significantly interfere with everyday life. It can be helpful to develop routines for daily activities, which encourage us to complete them in a set order where we’re less likely to forget them. For example, we might develop a routine of having all of our “out the door” items in one spot, such as our keys, bag, phone, charger, wallet, umbrella, and sunglasses, so that we have a “one stop spot” for retrieving items. We can also pack items ahead of time (e.g. packing our bag the night before) to reduce rushing in the morning and making it less likely we’ll forget something.
- We can also utilise checklists and calendars to reduce reliance on memory. This isn’t just helpful for scheduled appointments such as medical checkups, but also for ongoing reminders such as purchasing a gift for that upcoming birthday party or making sure we refill our prescriptions well in advance of an upcoming holiday. Vital reminders can be kept at eye level in unmissable places, such as post-it notes inside our shoes or on the bathroom mirror.
- ADHD-ers are prone to misplacing belongings. It can be helpful to make sure
belongings have their own home, and to spend a few minutes at the end of each day returning items to their designated spot.
- Task completion can often be a challenge for ADHD-ers. If restlessness is an
obstacle to getting things done, it can help to do some exercise beforehand, or to consider using a standing desk or a fit-ball instead of a chair.
- Complex, multi-step tasks can be overwhelming, so it can be useful to break down tasks into their smallest possible component steps, and do them one at a time. If getting started is difficult, make a promise to yourself to just complete one step – the momentum from that one step might be enough to get you through more.
It’s imperative to remember that ADHD-ers often have a range of strengths and positive attributes, such as creativity, which can be utilised to come up with new ideas and novel ways of applying strategies. Finding tools that are both helpful and practical can take some experimentation and trial-and-error, so patience and persistence is key.
If you would like help or you think you may have adult ADHD reach out to CK Health. Our Psychologist Ash Nayate specialises in this area and may be able to assess you and offer some valuable tools to help you cope. Health fund or medicare rebates may be available. Book online HERE