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What Does Adult ADHD Look Like?

written by: Mayflor Markusic • edited by: jen2008 • updated: 7/28/2010

Children and teenagers who have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) may still suffer from the symptoms during their adult years. If ignored and uncontrolled, these ADHD symptoms can detrimentally affect many aspects of the adult’s life. What are these symptoms?

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    Silent Sufferers

    Causes / Origin of Adult ADHD

    Early intervention of ADHD is the best way to manage and control the typical symptoms of hyperactivity and inattention. But the prognosis of treatment is not always certain. When they reach adulthood, children with ADHD may still suffer from the symptoms. After all, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is not a phase similar to adolescence. It is a neurological condition that impairs the executive functions of an individual.

    Differences Between Childhood ADHD

    The neurological impairment makes a person hyperactive, inattentive, and impulsive. These general ADHD symptoms are obvious in children but not in adults. For example, when a child fidgets, squirms, and talks excessively, the people around the child will think that something is wrong. ADHD is often suspected. But when an adult squirms, drums his fingers, and talks excessively, the people around the adult will still think that something is wrong. ADHD, however, will not come to mind. There are other unflattering reasons. When an adult squirms too much, he/she might be guilty of some misconduct or has developed a really unattractive habit. When an adult drums his/her fingers, that adult is probably bored to death. And when an adult talks excessively, it is assumed that he/she is just self-centered and pompous.

    Some adults with ADHD will probably welcome these misconceptions because they didn't want to be diagnosed with this medical condition. But misconceptions do not hide the ADHD symptoms.They keep forgetting things. They need to read a sentence over and over again to understand what it means. They have a lot of nervous energy. They could not be promoted because they perform poorly at work. They could not find a fulfilling relationship because they seldom remember a date. Their finances are in trouble. Their self-esteem has hit rock bottom and no one seems to explain why. They suffer in silence.

    ADHD in adults should be diagnosed so that proper treatment can be given to manage the symptoms. But what exactly are these symptoms? How can these symptoms be differentiated from other reasons, such as signs of boredom or self-centeredness?

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    Understanding the Symptoms

    The symptoms of ADHD in adults is more subtle than those in children. According to Dr. Thomas Brown, a clinical psychologist from Yale University, the symptoms of ADHD in adults can be categorized in six areas of a person's executive functions. These are activation, focus, effort, emotion, memory, and action. A person without ADHD may have a temporary impairment in one or more of these areas due to a traumatic event or an illness. But the significant impairment in all of these areas due to no apparent reason at all would mean ADHD in the adult.

    Activation - Problems in prioritizing and organizing tasks.

    • Procrastination
    • Inability to differentiate the important and urgent tasks from others
    • Inefficient performance of tasks even if these tasks are routinely done

    Focus - The adult version of the ADHD child's inattentiveness.

    • Easily distracted
    • Zoning out during conversations
    • Changing topics erratically

    Effort - The absence of persistence and motivation

    • Inability in completing tasks
    • Missing deadlines
    • Sleeping problems that would lead to difficulty in staying alert during daytime

    Emotion - Helplessness in controlling emotions and inability to deal with stress

    • Unstable moods
    • Sudden displays of temper
    • Frequent display of emotions like anxiety and frustration

    Memory - Similar to having a short-circuited wiring in short-term memory

    • Constantly lose or misplace things
    • Forget appointments
    • Could not remember recent conversations.

    Action - Lack of self-control.

    • Appear juvenile in his/her inability to postpone gratification
    • Act and speak impulsively
    • Easily jump to conclusions