One of the most common myths about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is that it only occurs in children. So you might be surprised to learn that’s not the case. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 4.4 percent of American adults have ADHD.
Not all of those adults were diagnosed as children. In fact, many people with ADHD are diagnosed as adults.
If you’ve been experiencing symptoms that you think might be ADHD, you’re not alone. It’s never too late to talk to a mental health professional to get a diagnosis and the treatment you need.
There’s no single test for ADHD. Instead, a qualified professional will use multiple evaluations and tests to diagnose ADHD.
ADHD can’t be diagnosed from simple observation or a quick conversation. Diagnosis in adults can be complex because many adults have learned to hide or mask many of their symptoms over the years.
Additionally, other conditions such as learning disabilities or mood disorders will need to be ruled out in some cases.
You can read more about some evaluations you might have during your adult ADHD diagnosis below.
Learning your personal history
You’ll need to be prepared to answer a lot of questions about your childhood. The physician or mental healthcare provider will want to know answers to questions like:
- What were your grades in school?
- Were you frequently in trouble?
- Did you have trouble with organization?
- Was your room always a mess?
It can be helpful to bring report cards or other records of your school days, if you can get a hold of them. Often, report cards will list not just grades, but teacher comments that could point to ADHD.
In some cases, the professional doing your evaluation might want to contact a parent, guardian, or someone else who can give details about your childhood.
Many adults with ADHD have trouble recalling some events of their childhood. They might downplay their symptoms or the problems they caused, so it can be helpful for evaluators to speak to a parent or have them fill out a questionnaire before your appointment.
You need to have displayed some symptoms of ADHD before the age of 12 to be diagnosed, so this part of the evaluation is very important. In some cases, those symptoms might have changed as you grew.
Your symptoms might not present in the same ways now as when you were a child. However, for most people with adult ADHD, there are clear childhood signs.
Assessing the difficulties you have now
You’ll also need to talk about any difficulties or troubles you’ve had as an adult. This can include:
- trouble in college studies or work
- difficulties in your relationships
- difficulty paying bills
- frequently missed appointments
It’s important to be as honest as you can about any difficulties you’ve had, even if you don’t think they’re related to ADHD.
Your family, spouse, or close friends might also be asked to participate in this part of the evaluation. When you schedule an ADHD evaluation, there’s a chance the healthcare professional will ask your permission to send questionnaires to people you’ve chosen to help provide more insight.
Other people might see difficulties you’ve missed or be able to recall events from a different point of view. For example, you might think you don’t have trouble keeping your appointments straight, but your spouse may say that they always need to remind you multiple times.
This stage of the evaluation is very important because ADHD can’t be diagnosed if you’re not having significant difficulties. That means you could have multiple symptoms of ADHD, but if those symptoms aren’t causing problems in your life, you won’t be diagnosed with ADHD.
Using behavior rating scales
One or more behavior rating scales might be used in your evaluation. These scales list behaviors that are common in people with ADHD. The evaluator might ask you to fill it out before the evaluation or complete it with you during the appointment.
If you’re in a relationship, your partner might also be asked to fill out an evaluation of your behavior.
Testing for other mental health conditions
Some evaluators will also want to test you for other conditions. For example, you might need cognitive testing to look for learning or intellectual disabilities. These may also be causing your difficulties at school or work.
You might also be screened for personality or mood disorders that could cause symptoms similar to ADHD. These tests aren’t for ADHD, but they rule out other conditions to help the evaluator make a diagnosis.
Ordering a physical exam
You might need a medical exam to rule out any underlying medical reasons for your symptoms. Conditions like thyroid disorders and seizure disorders can sometimes cause symptoms very similar to ADHD.
If it’s been more than 1 year since your last medical exam, your evaluator might need you to take one before they can accurately diagnose ADHD.
ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It’s a mental health disorder that causes difficulties with:
- emotional regulation
- impulse control
ADHD is often diagnosed in childhood, but many people with the condition aren’t diagnosed until adulthood.
There are three different categories of ADHD:
- ADHD predominantly inattentive presentation. Inattentive type ADHD was previously referred to as ADD. People with this type of ADHD have trouble with organization and completing tasks.
- ADHD hyperactive-impulsive presentation. This type of ADHD makes it difficult for people to sit still. People with this form of ADHD are generally very impulsive and have trouble listening to directions.
- ADHD combined presentation. People with combined type ADHD have symptoms of both of the other types of ADHD.
Many adults seek treatment for ADHD when they’ve had difficulties in multiple areas of their life. Symptoms that often lead to adults being diagnosed with ADHD include:
- frequently quitting or losing jobs
- poor or inconsistent work performance
- history of underperforming at school or work
- difficulties managing daily tasks
- difficulties keeping things organized
- difficulties paying bills
- difficulties with time management
- frequently forgetting appointments or other important dates
- strong emotional reactions to minor things
- constant feelings of stress and worry caused by difficulties with everyday tasks
- constant feelings of frustration about not meeting goals or accomplishing tasks
- relationship problems caused by disorganization or forgetfulness
Other symptoms of ADHD can depend on the type of ADHD you have. People with ADHD predominantly inattentive presentation:
- often lose things
- have difficulty with organization
- often make careless mistakes
- have trouble paying close attention to detail
- have difficulty paying attention for long periods of time
- are easily distracted
- avoid tasks that require sustained concentration
- seem not to listen
- are forgetful
People with ADHD predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation:
- are unable to sit still without squirming or fidgeting
- have difficulty with quiet activities
- talk excessively
- often feel extremely restless
- have trouble staying seated for long periods of time
- often interrupt others
- have difficulty waiting in line
- feel as if they’re driven by a motor
People with ADHD combined presentation have symptoms of both other types.
It’s important to note that everyone has some of these symptoms at times. Occasional forgetfulness or trouble sitting still isn’t a sign of ADHD.
However, if you have a number of these symptoms and they’re interfering with your life, it’s a good idea to talk to a mental health professional.
Your ADHD treatment will depend on the severity of your ADHD, any other conditions you might have, and your specific goals.
Many people assume that the only treatment for ADHD is medication, but that’s not the case. In fact, medication is most effective when it’s combined with other treatments as part of a plan. ADHD treatment in adults includes:
- Medications. Adults are often prescribed the same medications as children with ADHD. There are stimulant and nonstimulant medications available. Depending on your specific treatment plan, you might also be prescribed an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication.
- Lifestyle changes. Getting into a routine and monitoring your overall health can help your ADHD symptoms. Getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and managing stress can make a positive difference in your symptoms.
- Exercise plans. Getting exercise can be very helpful in managing ADHD symptoms. Your doctor can help you work out a plan that’s right for you. Activities like yoga can be especially helpful for people with ADHD.
- Therapy. Therapy can help you manage your stress and emotions. It might also be helpful to go to family or couples therapy to help you and your loved ones adjust to the diagnosis together.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT can help you learn new techniques to manage your ADHD symptoms.
- Coaching. Coaching can help you learn better organization, time management, and other skills.
Many people think of ADHD as a children’s condition, but that’s not the case. Many adults with ADHD weren’t diagnosed as children. There are professionals who can help you get a diagnosis as an adult even if you’ve never been evaluated before.
Your evaluation will include questions about your childhood, questions about your life currently, screening for ADHD symptoms, and tests to rule out other conditions. Your diagnosis can allow you to receive treatments that can improve your everyday life.