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So that’s what’s been going on: The relief of an adult ADHD diagnosis
This condition doesn’t only affect kids. Adults can have it too, and it could help explain a lot. Here’s what to know.
Maybe you’ve been finding it hard to meet deadlines at work. Or you can’t pay attention during meetings.1
Maybe you’ve had these issues your whole life.
These are just a few of the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).1,2 It’s a condition that can affect your attention span, activity level and behavior, and the way you act around others. And it’s a common disorder that’s often first discovered in children.
But some people might not find out they have it until they’re adults. That can come as a big relief.
“I think the relief comes from having a framework for understanding why some things may be challenging,” says Tori Cordiano, PhD. She is a licensed psychologist in Beachwood, Ohio. Knowing that they have ADHD can help a person understand why some things have always been so hard for them, she says.
When you’re living with ADHD, your brain can work differently. That can bring about challenges. But it also means you have a unique way of seeing the world.3
These are the “gifts” of ADHD, says Lara Honos-Webb, PhD. She is a licensed clinical psychologist in Walnut Creek, California. “People with ADHD often show a high degree of creativity,” she says. “They have the ability to think outside the box, come up with original ideas and see connections that others might miss.”
Here’s how to know if you may have ADHD as an adult, and why it took so long for you to get diagnosed. Plus, find out what your doctor can do to help your symptoms.
Why weren’t you diagnosed with ADHD as a child?
If you didn’t know you had ADHD as a child, there could be several reasons why, says Nekeshia Hammond, PsyD. She’s a licensed psychologist in Tampa Bay, Florida.
Here are some reasons that you might not have known you had ADHD until later in life:
- You have the inattentive type of ADHD. There are three different types of ADHD:4
- Predominately inattentive. People with this type of ADHD may struggle with focus.2
- Predominately hyperactive-impulsive. This type of ADHD may include fidgeting and being impulsive (acting without thinking).2 It can be more obvious to outsiders.
- Combined type. This is a combination of the first two types.2
When trying to diagnose ADHD, doctors do a complete checkup. And sometimes, the most noticeable signs, like hyperactivity, help your doctor diagnose your condition faster.4,5 That’s why the inattentive type might be missed when you’re a kid.4
- You’re a woman. Women are typically diagnosed with ADHD later in life than men.6,7 That’s because it may not be as obvious in young girls and teenage girls, notes Cordiano. For instance, girls are more likely to have inattentive symptoms than boys.4
In some cases, adults might learn that they have ADHD after they have their own children, explains Cordiano. “A parent will start to realize that this diagnosis resonates with them too,” she says.
- You were able to work around your condition. This is called “masking,” explains Cordiano. It means that a person with ADHD is able to find ways to adjust to their condition. They do so by learning ways to handle and adapt to their struggles.8 For example, if you have ADHD, you may often misplace things. To mask your condition, you might constantly check your bag to keep track of your belongings.
What can I do if I find out I have ADHD as an adult?
Let’s say your therapist or another health care professional confirms that you have ADHD. How you feel about that news may vary from person to person, says Cordiano. Here are a few examples:
- You may feel sad that you didn’t find out earlier, says Hammond. If you did, you might have had a chance to start treatment sooner.
- You might feel relieved. Suddenly, so much about your life makes sense. You didn’t mean to seem like you procrastinate. Your brain just works differently. “Now they know their symptoms were not just in their head,” says Hammond.
- You might feel confused. This can be tough news to hear, says Cordiano. Your view of ADHD might not match the way you view yourself, she says.
- You might also feel angry. That could be directed at parents or teachers for not identifying the condition earlier, notes Honos-Webb.
No matter what you feel, you’ll likely be thinking, “What now?” Read on to learn what you can do.
I just found out I have ADHD. What are my next steps?
You’ll want to schedule a visit with your doctor or a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, says Cordiano. They can suggest treatment options. That might include a prescription medication to help with your symptoms.9
Talk therapy can also help. Your doctor can refer you to someone who specializes in ADHD.10 It’s key to work with someone who understands your condition, says Cordiano. They can help you set goals and stick to them.
Lifestyle changes may also help ease your symptoms, says Honos-Webb. She wrote a book called Six Super Skills for Executive Functioning: Tools to Help Teens Improve Focus, Stay Organized, and Reach Their Goals. In it, she discusses research-backed strategies, which can work for people of any age, including:
- Exercise. Some studies have shown physical activity may help ease ADHD symptoms.11 Physical activity can enhance brain functions, including attention span, says Honos-Webb.
- Quality sleep. As many as 4 out of 5 adults with ADHD also have a sleep disorder.12 But sleep is important to overall good health, including attention.13 To help get better sleep, she suggests:
- Powering down screens before bed
- Going to bed at the same time daily
- Keeping your bedroom quiet, dark and cool
- Managing stress. High stress levels can impair attention. Some great ways to ease stress include:14
Finding out you have ADHD as an adult can bring up a range of emotions. You can now explore treatments for it. And you can learn to embrace the ways it makes you unique.
Finally knowing more about yourself might feel freeing. It can help you make sense of so much about your past. And that’s the first step to building a productive future.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Accessed September 13, 2023.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What is ADHD? Last reviewed August 9, 2022. Accessed September 13, 2023.
- Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). ADHD Benefits in the Workplace. Accessed September 13, 2023.
- American Psychological Association. An ADHD diagnosis in adulthood comes with challenges and benefits. Published March 1, 2023. Accessed September 13, 2023.
- Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). Grow Out of ADHD? Not Likely. Published December 17, 2020. Accessed September 13, 2023.
- Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). How the gender gap leaves girls and women undertreated for ADHD. Accessed September 13, 2023.
- BMC Psychiatry. Females with ADHD: An expert consensus statement taking a lifespan approach providing guidance for the identification and treatment of attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder in girls and women. Published August 12, 2020. Accessed September 13, 2023.
- Frontiers in Psychology. Attentive-executive functioning and compensatory strategies in adult ADHD: A retrospective case series study. Published October 13, 2022. Accessed September 13, 2023.
- Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). Medication Management. Accessed September 13, 2023.
- Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. Accessed September 13, 2023.
- Borderline Personality Disorder and Emotion Dysregulation. Physical exercise in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – evidence and implications for the treatment of borderline personality disorder. Published January 6, 2020. Accessed September 13, 2023.
- Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). ADHD and Sleep Disorders. Accessed September 13, 2023.
- National Institutes of Health, NIH News in Health. Good Sleep for Good Health. Published April 2021. Accessed September 13, 2023.
- Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). Managing Stress When You Have ADHD. Published October 17, 2019. Accessed September 13, 2023.
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