Diagnosing ADHD in Adults
Just a few years ago, mental health professionals believed children with ADHD would grow out of the disorder. While some will experience symptom improvement as they reach adulthood, many others will not. In fact, approximately 60% of children with ADHD will continue to experience difficulties into adulthood. An adult with ADHD is difficult to diagnose. Adults will sometimes recognize the symptoms of the condition in themselves when a son or daughter receives a diagnosis. Many adults will often seek mental health treatment for depression, anxiety, or other symptoms and learn that what they are experiencing results from their ADHD.
Although the DSM-IV criteria for ADHD are the same for all individuals, symptoms will manifest themselves differently in adults than they do in children. Adults with ADHD will typically experience the following symptoms:
- Poor organizational skills
- Continually starting new tasks before finishing old ones
- Carelessness and lack of attention to detail
- Difficulties with focusing or prioritizing
- Chronic lateness
- Continually losing or misplacing things
- Forgetfulness, restlessness, and edginess
- Poor social timing when speaking to others
- Mood swings and irritability
- Inability to deal with stress
- Taking risks in activities without regard to personal safety or the safety of others
To be diagnosed with ADHD, an adult must have experienced symptoms in childhood and currently have persistent symptoms. For an accurate diagnosis, an adult should have a thorough physical exam. Psychological testing is the next step in diagnosis, with assessments typically using a rating scale to determine the degree of symptomology. Then, a history of the adult's behavior as a child is taken. A mental health professional may also interview the individual’s life partner, parent, or a close friend.
If ADHD in adults is left undiagnosed and unmanaged, the condition can cause emotional, social, occupational and academic problems. Adults who do not receive treatment typically experience low self-esteem and anxiety. Drug abuse, alcohol problems, and smoking-related disorders are extremely common among adults with untreated ADHD. Traffic accidents and intentional risky behaviors also increase among this population, as do convictions and incarcerations because of extreme and violent behavior. Relationship difficulties and problems related to employment and education tend to persist as well.