Here’s the truth about “adult-onset ADHD.”
Many adults feel a sense of relief when they hear they’ve been diagnosed with ADHD. For many, they’ve struggled with symptoms like disorganization, lack of focus, or impulsivity for years, and those symptoms may even be holding them at work or in their relationships. (Find out more signs of adult ADHD here.)
But even if you get diagnosed with ADHD in adulthood, that doesn’t mean your symptoms started for the first time in adulthood. “Probably the most common misconception about adult ADHD is that there is such a thing as ‘adult-onset ADHD,’ and that it never existed before,” says Susan Samuels, MD, psychiatrist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Cornell Medicine.
In other words, adults diagnosed with ADHD likely had symptoms as children but never received a formal diagnosis then. Symptoms of ADHD may have been more subtle during childhood, or the challenges and expectations during adulthood (paying bills, meeting work deadlines, etc.) may make symptoms more pronounced. “As we get older, we are required to do more things, balance more things, have more responsibilities, and do it on our own,” says Jennifer Hartstein, PsyD, psychologist in New York City. “We might not have had the same issues as a kid as we do as an adult to stay focused and stay on task.”
Certain types of ADHD may be more difficult to recognize during childhood. The inattentive subtype of ADHD often goes unnoticed in young girls, and individuals and their families may not recognize the problem until adulthood. (Learn about inattentive ADHD in children.)
Some adults with ADHD are first diagnosed with learning disorders or mental health disorders, and may learn they have ADHD while in treatment for another mental health concern, like depression, substance addiction, or anxiety, according to a 2018 study in Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology.
Others may not recognize the signs of ADHD until they have children themselves. (ADHD is highly genetic and tends to run in families.) “It’s really, really common for parents to come in for an evaluation for their child, and they realize those very same symptoms that we’re talking about in the office were symptoms they experienced as a child themselves,” says Dr. Samuels.
While learning your ADHD diagnosis in adulthood may ease your mind, it also comes with its fair share challenges. It might be tough to learn new strategies and coping techniques to assist your organization, time management, and focus, when you’re an adult facing a laundry list of tasks. The stakes might feel higher.
Still, treatment, including medication and therapy, is available, and you can learn to manage, and even thrive, with your ADHD. Here are ways to stay organized at work with ADHD. Or perhaps maintaining your home life is your struggle. Find out how to have a more organized morning routine with ADHD.
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Probably the most common misconception
about adult ADHD is that
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there is such a thing as adult onset
ADHD and that it never existed before.
00:00:11,430 --> 00:00:17,418
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It is not true that adults can
be diagnosed with ADHD for
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the first time never having
had symptoms before.
00:00:25,360 --> 00:00:28,816
They might get the diagnosis as an adult,
but they may look back and
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realize that that they had problems
with hyperactivity or impulsivity and
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or inattention when they were younger and
in elementary school.
00:00:36,220 --> 00:00:40,173
It's really, really common for parents to
come in for an evaluation for their child.
00:00:40,173 --> 00:00:44,710
And they realize those very same symptoms
that we're talking about in the office
00:00:44,710 --> 00:00:49,260
were symptoms they experienced as a child
themselves in a very similar setting.
00:00:49,260 --> 00:00:52,523
And then they realize I might have
had ADHD when I was a child as well.
00:00:52,523 --> 00:00:56,538
As we get older, we are required to do
more things and balance more things and
00:00:56,538 --> 00:00:59,540
have more responsibilities and
do it on our own.
00:00:59,540 --> 00:01:02,510
When we're kids we have people that
help us out or cover for us or whatever.
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So as adults we have to
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We have to be more involved, we have to be
more invested in our jobs, in our lives,
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with our families.
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So we might not have had the same
issues as a kid as we do as an adult to
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stay focused and stay on task.
00:01:14,790 --> 00:01:17,050
So we might never have thought
about going to get help for
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ADD as we might when we're an adult.
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So for adults who weren't diagnosed
as children that might notice
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some challenges in their life, whether in
their work life or their personal life.
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They're not able to be as efficient and
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get things done in the way that
they think they should be able to.
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And they might come to see
a mental health professional and
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get a comprehensive evaluation and
realize that actually makes sense, and
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I've had problems with as
attention my whole life.
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Diagnosis of ADHD in adults. Lanham, MD: Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. (Accessed on April 25, 2018 at http://www.chadd.org/Understanding-ADHD/For-Adults/Diagnosis-of-ADHD.aspx.)
Geffen J, Forster K. Treatment of adult ADHD: a clinical perspective. Ther Adv Psychopharmacol. 2018 Jan;8(1):25-31.
Treatment of ADHD. Lanham, MD: Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. (Accessed on April 25, 2018 at http://www.chadd.org/Understanding-ADHD/About-ADHD/Treatment-of-ADHD.aspx.)