Q&A: Living with ADHD as an Adult

**Q&A with Jason Law, MSN, ARNP**

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopment disorder that can lead to problems focusing, difficulty with organization, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. While most commonly perceived as a childhood disorder, a recent study showed about 4% of adults in the U.S. over the age of 18 also live their lives managing ADHD.

If you’re included in the aforementioned 4%, you unfortunately might know that resources for adults are not as widely available as they are for children. I’ve answered some common questions associated with ADHD in adults below in hopes that you can find some solace and learn how to work with your brain, rather than against it.

Q. What causes ADHD and what are some common symptoms?

A. Your brain contains neurotransmitter chemicals called dopamine and norepinephrine that help you pay attention to and focus on your daily activities. At its core, ADHD is the result of an imbalance of these two chemicals.

When your brain experiences a lack of these neurotransmitters, you may find yourself having a difficult time focusing or remaining organized. On the other hand, when your brain experiences heightened levels of these neurotransmitters, you might find yourself becoming too engrained in whatever it is you’re working on, which is known as hyper fixation.

While lack of focus and disorganization are frustrating to deal with, hyper fixation can be an exceptionally grueling symptom, as it doesn’t always translate to the immediate task at hand you’d like to accomplish.

Q. How does ADHD in adults differ from children?

A. As you age, the core symptoms of ADHD will still be there, but they may present themselves differently. Children typically have more structured processes provided for them, such as school, sports and other extracurriculars, so their ADHD symptoms translate more closely to hyperactivity and academic struggles. However, it is important to note that not all children with ADHD struggle in school.

Alternatively, adults have less structure provided for them and must find ways to build these daily living processes themselves. Symptoms in adults tend to lean more toward forgetfulness, lack of punctuality, frequently losing items, impulsiveness and quick to anger.

Q. What are some common myths/misconceptions associated with ADHD?

A. First and foremost, the most glaring ADHD misconception is that it has something to do with a person’s intelligence, which could not be further from the truth. In fact, there are many adults that are not diagnosed with ADHD until later in life because they performed well throughout their years of schooling. ADHD is an issue of focus, disorganization, hyperactivity and impulsivity, not one of intelligence.

The name ADHD itself can also be misleading because it’s not solely an attention deficit, it can also be directing too much attention toward something. Additionally, lack of focus and hyper fixation are not mutually exclusive – it is possible to experience both of these at once. For example, you might be working hard to accomplish a work task but keep finding yourself gravitating toward and becoming engrained in a different task that brings you more excitement.

Q. What advice or resources would you provide for adults with ADHD?

As I mentioned above, learning to work with your brain rather than against it will work wonders for adults struggling with ADHD. The first step is to identify the symptoms affecting you most, which can be done by creating a “problem behavior list” to figure out what’s currently happening that you don’t want to happen. Are there certain tasks or activities that trigger your symptoms more than others? Make note of these and when it comes time to complete them, try dividing them up into smaller, more manageable actions, while incorporating small breaks for things you do enjoy.

ADHD coaching has become quite popular and involves teaching different organizational skills, time management and impulse control, to name a few. The Hallowell Todaro ADHD Center here in Seattle has some amazing coaches who will work with you to address your specific needs and help you reach your personal goals. CHADD is another great resource that has a wealth of up-to-date information on the topic and can help you seek the answers you’re looking for or find the help you need.

Treating or managing ADHD varies from person to person. Always work with your doctor to determine a solution that works best for you. If you’d like to speak with a Virginia Mason Franciscan Health provider, visit our website here.

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