Though ADHD diagnoses are usually associated with children, there are many reasons why someone may reach adulthood without realizing they’re neurodivergent. This lack of diagnosis can be an extremely frustrating experience as individuals try to navigate higher education, jobs, and relationships—especially since ADHD makes things like sticking to a routine, staying organized, and concentrating extremely challenging.
If you’ve experienced these or other ADHD-related symptoms but haven’t been diagnosed, you’re not alone. An estimated 10 million adults in the United States have undiagnosed ADHD and are just now seeking accommodations and treatment. In this article, we’ll discuss common ADHD symptoms in adults, the different ways this neurotype may present, and the process of getting an official diagnosis.
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Many adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may have gone undiagnosed as children because their symptoms aligned with typical childhood behaviors. After all, it’s normal for children to be hyperactive, have occasional trouble paying attention, or have difficulty with organization. However, if you struggle with these things throughout adolescence and into adulthood, it may be due to ADHD.
This may also be the case if you’re extremely organized and well-scheduled. Having elaborate systems to compensate for deficits is also indicative of ADHD, specifically inattentive ADHD. Any individual with ADHD can have either hyperactive or inattentive ADHD or present with a combination of the two. Below is a more detailed definition of each type of ADHD.
Inattentive ADHD Symptoms
Individuals with inattentive ADHD tend to be described as daydreamers or even characterized as thoughtless (even if this isn’t the case). This is because they have difficulty concentrating on things that don’t produce dopamine in their brains.
Common symptoms of inattentive ADHD include:
- Poor attention to detail
- Difficulty focusing on extended tasks
- Makes “careless” mistakes
- Difficulty with sequential instructions
- Often loses things, especially small items
- Forgetful and easily distracted
- Avoids tedious, repetitive tasks
Hyperactive-impulsive ADHD Symptoms
Those with hyperactive-type ADHD were often the “troublemakers” in school because they had difficulty regulating themselves while sitting still. As adults, people with hyperactive ADHD may be athletic, enjoy multitasking, and find working in an office extremely challenging.
Common symptoms of hyperactive-impulsive ADHD include:
- Restlessness, constant fidgeting
- Difficulty sitting still (may prefer a standing or walking desk)
- Feels like they are “driven by a motor”
- Activities are easier with a “distraction” (e.g., music)
- Excessive talking; interrupts to answer questions
How Does ADHD Affect Adults?
Outwardly, adults with ADHD may appear to be forgetful, careless, disorganized, and unfocused. However, these characteristics don’t mean that ADHD adults are immature or careless—they’re indicators of what’s going on inside the ADHD brain.
Individuals with this neurotype have difficulty absorbing dopamine and norepinephrine, so they seek activities that produce higher levels of those neurotransmitters to help balance their brain chemistry. Things like dancing and producing art are more attractive to the ADHD brain than folding laundry or performing data entry, making more “practical” activities extremely difficult to complete—whether a person wants to do them or not.
Frequently, this dissonance between wanting to complete practical tasks and being unable to results in anxiety and a tendency toward overstimulation. The best way for adults with ADHD to cope is to ignore how things “should” be done and develop accommodations such as body-doubling.
Seeking treatment can also help alleviate some severe ADHD symptoms in adults. If you’re unable to attend regular in-person appointments, telehealth treatment may be a viable alternative. You can receive an evaluation, diagnosis, and prescription without ever leaving home.
Types of Tests and Screenings for Adult ADHD
Testing for adult ADHD is different from testing children and teens because the questions are more complex and straightforward. However, the screening process for ADHD always begins with some kind of screening. Your medical professional may conduct a diagnostic interview and analyze your symptoms or provide you with one of two behavior rating scales to gain insight into your mental health condition.
The diagnostic interview for ADHD consists of a series of questions based on your behaviors and experiences. The questions will ask about your current experiences, as well as childhood behaviors that may indicate you have ADHD.
This assessment is about ten pages long and usually takes about 90 minutes to complete. Your provider will review the questions with you, to help make the process go smoothly.
DSM-5 Symptoms Checklist
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) is a diagnostic tool used to analyze symptoms for a range of neurotypes and neurological conditions. Once you’ve completed your diagnostic interview, your provider will compare your answers to the 17 common symptoms of ADHD listed in the DSM-5.
If 5 or more symptoms are present, you’ll receive an ADHD diagnosis.
Behavior Rating Scales
The two rating scales below were developed specifically to assess and address adult ADHD. These behavior assessments can be printed and taken at home, then given to your healthcare provider for analysis.
Both assessments are based on personal perception, which can be subjective. It’s recommended that you choose two people close to you to also take the assessment on your behalf, such as a spouse and parent or sibling and close friend. At least one of these people should have known you during childhood.
Adult ADHD Clinical Diagnostic Scale (AACDS)
The ACDS is designed to provide information about which ADHD symptoms you’re currently experiencing. The questionnaire is 18 items long and aligns with the DSM-5 criteria for ADHD.
Brown Attention-Deficit Disorder Symptoms Assessment Scale (BADDS)
The BADDS evaluates the frequency with which you experience ADHD symptoms. For example, if you only experience a few symptoms occasionally, it’s likely you don’t have ADHD. However, if you experience five or more symptoms most of the time, you likely do have ADHD.
This 40-item evaluation is also aligned with the DSM-5 criteria for ADHD. Scoring consists of a point scale between 0 (never) and 3 (daily).
Who Can Diagnose ADHD in Adults?
An adult seeking an ADHD diagnosis should see a licensed and certified mental health professional—such as a psychiatrist—or a medical physician. Both categories of medical professionals are qualified to evaluate you and provide a diagnosis if it’s appropriate.
All medical professionals on Klarity, for instance, are fully licensed and board-certified. Many also have up to a decade of experience diagnosing and treating ADHD. To get comprehensive online ADHD treatment, book an appointment on Klarity today.
What Happens After ADHD Diagnosis?
After receiving your ADHD diagnosis, there are several courses of action you may choose to take, including:
- Taking prescription medication, such as Adderall
- Regular therapy appointments with an ADHD specialist
- Self-education on your neurotype, including appropriate accommodations and workplace rights
You may pursue one of these options, or a combination of all of them, depending on the type of ADHD you have and how much it affects your daily life.
Get ADHD Diagnosis and Treatment With Healthcare Providers on Klarity
Do you suspect your restlessness, lack of organization, and acute anxiety are due to undiagnosed ADHD? The experienced and certified providers on Klarity are here to help.
Zawn Villines. “What is Body-Doubling for ADHD?” Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/body-doubling-adhd
“Clinical Practice Tools.” Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). https://chadd.org/for-adults/diagnosis-of-adhd-in-adults/
Rebecca Joy Stanborough. “A Guide to Adult ADHD Diagnosis.” Healthline.
“DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria.” QandADHD.
Diagnosis of ADHD in Adults. Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). https://chadd.org/for-professionals/clinical-practice-tools/