Understanding Adult ADHD

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Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, more commonly referred to as ADHD, has been gaining much-deserved attention in recent years. It is one of the most common neurodevelopmental conditions – it is reported amongst 9.8% children between age 3 and age 17. While ADHD is typically associated with children, it is important to remember that individuals carry this into adulthood as well. A recent global study found the prevalence of persistent adult ADHD to be 2.58% and symptomatic adult ADHD to be 6.76%. In spite of its prevalence, ADHD in adults is under-researched, misunderstood and overlooked. Creating awareness around adult ADHD is thus important. In this article, we will look at its causes, impact, treatment and coping strategies. 

Causes and types of ADHD

ADHD is used to describe a set of behaviours often characterised by inattention, impulsivity and in some cases, hyperactivity. ADHD is now understood as a neurodevelopmental condition, meaning that it is a result of a person’s brain developing differently during key stages of development before they were born or as young children. While the exact cause is still unclear, some possible reasons for this include genetics, trauma at birth, nutritional factors and more. 

With time, three distinct types of ADHD have been identified:

  • ADHD, combined type: with features of impulsivity, hyperactivity, inattention and distractibility 
  • ADHD, impulsive/hyperactive type
  • ADHD, inattention and distractible type

Moreover, presentations of ADHD shift even from childhood to adulthood. 

What does ADHD in adults look like?

The nature of ADHD often evolves from childhood to adulthood. There is an overall reduction of hyperactive-impulsive characteristics, while the inattentive features often persist. Individuals can visit psychologists who use clinical tests and ADHD symptoms listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – V to give a formal diagnosis. In real life, ADHD can be quite pervasive and adversely impact a range of outcomes at work, social life, financial management and romantic relationships. Some adult ADHD markers include:

  • Self-regulation can be very challenging for individuals with ADHD. Consequently, they report difficulty with time management, organisation, self-motivation, impulse control and emotional management.
  • A sense of disorganization is a predominant theme, which can be debilitating and result in the individual finding daily tasks at work and home overwhelming.
  • Social manifestations such as distractibility during conversations, forgetfulness about matters important to others, verbal impulsivity (i.e. interrupting people and unfiltered talk) and poor frustration tolerance can create distress in interpersonal relationships. 

Overall, adults with ADHD can experience reduced quality of life. However, the lack of awareness about adult ADHD along with these presentations means that stigmatization is common. Adults with ADHD are often perceived by others as lazy, lacking intent, and low in competence. This stigma and poor awareness around adult ADHD have also allowed for other myths to grow. 

Myths around ADHD in adults

  • ADHD is only a childhood concern

ADHD is often mistaken as a concern experienced exclusively by children, doing immense disservice to adults with ADHD. Since ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition, it will persist across the lifespan – only the manifestations vary with life stages. 

  • ADHD is the same as depression/anxiety

Due to certain overlapping symptoms like poor concentration, restlessness, difficulty with emotional regulation and impulsivity, adult ADHD is often wrongly perceived and even medically misdiagnosed as depression and/or anxiety. However, ADHD and depression/anxiety are distinctly different and have different treatment modalities.

  • It is impossible to navigate through ADHD

ADHD is not a life sentence. While adults with ADHD do experience unique obstacles, it does not mean that these obstacles cannot be managed and navigated. With effective support and management, individuals with ADHD can live fulfilling lives, enjoy healthy relationships and flourish on the professional front. 

It is important for adults with ADHD to manage their symptoms. Here are some coping strategies that can help.

How can you cope with adult ADHD?

  • Building organizational skills

Individuals with ADHD often find it difficult to focus on tasks, break down long-term goals into smaller parts and follow through with plans. Interventions focused on organizational skills have been found to be effective in helping individuals manage ADHD symptoms. Some suggestions include carving out time to plan tasks, making a notebook/computer file devoted to to-dos, ensuring these to-do lists are in a clear, simple language and limited to 2 to 5 items, and keeping some extra time for any tasks that spill over.

  • Training in social skills

An individual’s relationships with their partner, friends and family, and colleagues can be significantly impacted as a result of ADHD. A two-pronged approach around this can be quite helpful. Firstly, individuals with ADHD can engage in social skills training and use other strategies such as scheduling regular check-ins with partners or friends and minimizing distractions when talking. This can help towards building connections with others and managing ADHD symptoms. Secondly, it can be helpful to educate family and friends about the impact that ADHD can have on interpersonal relationships. This will allow adults with ADHD and their emotional support systems to work together towards building more fulfilling relationships. 

  • Developing emotional regulation skills

Another aspect of ADHD that impacts the individual and their social and professional lives is difficulty with emotional regulation leading to avoidance and poor conflict resolution. Developing emotional regulation skills such as meditation training, mindfulness and grounding can minimize ADHD symptoms and allow individuals to be more aware of their emotions, pause and reflect on thoughts and feelings, and respond rather than react. 

  • Using technology wisely

Individuals with ADHD are more susceptible to internet addiction, given the variety of stimuli it stands to offer. At the same time, the internet can also be very helpful in managing ADHD symptoms – it allows access to important mental health apps, virtual planners, online support groups and other valuable resources. It is thus important to use technology wisely by turning on devices with a plan (for instance, “I am going to turn on my laptop to send XYZ file to someone”), implementing the plan, recognizing potential distractions and planning for how you can keep them in control.

  • Seeking professional help

Managing ADHD requires support at multiple levels – systemic adjustments, support from family and friends, and professional guidance. Research suggests that seeking ADHD treatment in the form of medication, psychotherapy and working with an ADHD coach can be very effective in managing ADHD, allowing individuals to live a fulfilling life. 

Conclusion

Like any other neurodivergent concern, ADHD comes with its struggles and unique experiences. ADHD has a positive side as well. People with ADHD recognise impulsive decisions as opening up possibilities for exciting experiences, and the distractibility and mind wandering also means that there is a lesser chance of them feeling stuck. Consequently, recognising strengths, seeking ADHD treatment for any symptoms and committing to navigate through the impact of ADHD can go a long way. Moreover, adults with ADHD do not have to do everything alone. Seeking systemic and individual support is important. Exploring resources like mental health apps can also be helpful.

Wysa is one such personalised mental health app which equips its users with effective digital tools along with connecting them with trained professionals to navigate through their mental health journeys. You can check out the services provided by Wysa by visiting us at: https://www.wysa.io/for-individuals

 

Image Credits: Photo by Shane on Unsplash

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