Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are most commonly perceived as childhood disorders, yet the symptoms remain into adulthood for about 60 percent of children with ADD/ADHD. That translates into eight million U.S. adults, but few adults are identified as having the disorder.
On their website, Mental Health America states that symptoms of adult ADD/ADHD can be variable and situational, or constant. Some sufferers can concentrate if they are interested or excited, while others have difficulty concentrating in any circumstance. Some seek stimulation, while others avoid it. Some become oppositional, ill-behaved and even antisocial; others become avid people-pleasers. Some are outgoing, while others are withdrawn. Helpguide.org identifies the following categories of adult ADD/ADHD symptoms:
Trouble concentrating and staying focused. Adults with ADD/ADHD struggle with staying on task, being easily distracted, bouncing from one activity to another, or becoming quickly bored. Sometimes these symptoms are ignored because they are not as noticeably distracting as the symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity, but they can be just as bothersome. Symptoms in the category include:
"zoning out" without realizing it, even in the middle of a conversation.
extreme distractibility and inability to focus for any length of time
struggling to complete tasks, even ones that seem simple.
overlooking details, leading to errors or incomplete work.
poor listening skills; difficulty following directions and remembering conversations.
Hyperfocus. Hyperfocus is a paradoxical symptom; it includes both trouble focusing on tasks that are not interesting to the person, while at the same time becoming overly absorbed in tasks that are stimulating and rewarding. This symptom is a coping mechanism - a way to tune out the chaos. Adults with ADD/ADHD may be so engrossed in an interesting book or good movie that they neglect other obligations. This may be an asset when applied to productive activities, but can also lead to employment and relationship problems.
Disorganization and forgetfulness. With ADD/ADHD, life may seem chaotic and out of control. Staying organized may be very difficult - prioritizing, sorting out what is relevant for the task at hand and managing time. Symptoms include tendency to procrastinate, chronic lateness, forgetting appointments and deadlines, misplacing things like keys and phone, and general disorder (messy and cluttered desk or car).
Impulsivity. This results in trouble inhibiting behaviors and comments. Adults with ADD/ADHD may find themselves interrupting others during conversations, blurting out comments and rushing through tasks without reading instructions. They are prone to addiction and often act recklessly or spontaneously without regard for consequences.
Emotional difficulties. It is a challenge for adults with the disorder to manage their feelings, particularly anger and frustration. This category includes having low self-esteem, an often explosive temper, irritability and mood swings and a hypersensitivity to criticism.
Hyperactivity or restlessness. Although adults are much less likely to be hyperactive than children, this symptom can be a huge challenge, including:
inner restlessness and agitation; doing many things at the same time.
a tendency toward risk-taking; a craving for excitement.
racing thoughts and fidgeting.
The cause or causes of ADD/ADHD are not fully understood. Some research indicates that it may be genetically transmitted or the result of an imbalance of certain chemicals that affect the brain's ability to regulate behavior. Other studies cite environmental factors, dietary factors or inner ear problems.
There is no definitive cure for ADD/ADHD, but there is hope for adults with the disorder, no matter how frustrating or disorganized their lives have become. The first step is to obtain an accurate diagnosis to rule out other possible physical or mental conditions. Treatment recommended by professionals may include a combination of psychotherapy, medication, education, support groups and accommodations for educational and employment needs, such as behavioral coaches or professional organizers. However, success in overcoming ADD/ADHD difficulties may well include some of the following self-help measures:
1. Take good care of your body.
2. Educate friends, coworkers and family on how to work with you.
3. Train yourself to be more mindful of time and develop routines. .
4. Prioritize and learn to say "no."
5. Work on your relationships.
ADD/ADHD can place numerous obstacles on one's path. But once an individual understands the symptoms and struggles posed by ADD/ADHD, he or she can learn to adjust and compensate for areas of weakness while building on his or her strengths and talents.
Miriam Keith is consumer support coordinator of the Washington County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Board. Mental Health Matters appears on the Opinion page on the first Saturday of each month.