Could you have adult ADHD if you have problems concentrating? It's certainly a possibility
What are the symptoms? And what does adult ADHD look like compared to a condition diagnosed during childhood? CNA Lifestyle finds out.
Do you often frustrate your colleagues because you can’t concentrate at meetings? Are fidget spinners more fascinating to you than the latest iPhone XS? Or do your friends call you a "kan cheong spider"?
Think back to your childhood. Did your parents have to scold you every couple of minutes to stay still? If you were also a regular in the discipline master’s office, or you were hauled up daily by your teacher for not paying attention in class, there is a chance you now have adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
WHY ISN’T SOME ADHD DIAGNOSED IN CHILDHOOD?
Despite the “adult” in the condition’s name, this neurodevelopmental disorder has its roots in childhood, said Dr Poornima Gangaram, consultant from the Institute of Mental Health’s Department of Psychosis.
About 60 per cent of children with ADHD in the United States become adults with ADHD; that’s about 4 per cent of the adult population or 8 million adults, according to the Anxiety And Depression Association of America (ADAA). However, there isn’t a nationwide data on the number of people diagnosed with adult ADHD in Singapore, said Dr Gangaram.
The ADAA noted that ADHD is thought to be biological and that it takes place very early in brain development.
“Several symptoms of ADHD are present prior to age 12 and persist in adulthood”, said Dr Gangaram. In preschool children, the biggest tell-tale sign is hyperactivity, such as running and climbing. This is followed by symptoms such as inattention, fidgetiness, restlessness and impulsive behaviour, she said.
But because parents and teachers tend to chalk these signs up to “normal behaviour in children”, the ADHD doesn’t get diagnosed or treated – until early adolescence or occasionally, early adulthood, when it interferes with the individual’s social and professional lives, said Dr Gangaram.
“This is mostly true for inattentive symptoms, which become more evident with increasing educational and occupational demands. Young children also often have difficulties in self-reporting problems pertinent to ADHD.”
Expectations of gender behaviour may have also played a part in delaying the diagnosis of adult ADHD. For instance, women are more likely to be diagnosed with inattentive ADHD later in life than men, according to the mental health online resource VeryWell Mind. If a girl often daydreams and is disorganised, they are likely thought to be her character traits rather than ADHD.
Can ADHD develop in adults who don’t have any precedence in childhood? Research is underway to determine that but there isn’t sufficient evidence to support the theory, said Dr Gangaram. “Current internationally-accepted diagnostic criteria require ADHD symptoms to start in childhood.”
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN CHILDHOOD AND ADULT ADHD
In adult ADHD, the symptoms are similar to childhood ADHD, except that most adults grow out of the hyperactivity symptoms, said Dr Gangaram. Many adults with ADHD may also not be aware that they have it. Or they may not give it much thought, even though they find everyday tasks challenging.
Conversely, some of these individuals may have developed coping strategies to overcome their adult ADHD symptoms: Distractibility, forgetfulness, inner restlessness, procrastination, disorganisation, mood instability and avoidance behaviour.
However, it is interesting to note that some people with adult ADHD may have hyperfocus instead of a lack of focus, according to Healthline. Such individuals get so engrossed with something that they tune out everything else around them.
HOW IS IT DIAGNOSED AND TREATED?
If the symptoms are present for a long time and are affecting your day-to-day functions, you should see a psychiatrist to rule out adult ADHD, suggested Dr Gangaram. It can also suss out other mental health disorders such as anxiety disorder, depression or bipolar disorder, which adults with ADHD are likely to have, according to the ADAA.
To diagnose, a comprehensive evaluation is required to assess how you function at school or work, and in your social life. Your family will also be involved during the evaluation to corroborate the information, said Dr Gangaram.
During the assessment, the psychiatrist is likely to use a diagnostic guide such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) to see if you meet the criteria outlined in it. This uses questionnaires, rating scales, intellectual screenings, interviews, and measurements of your sustained attention and distractibility.
Adult ADHD is often treated with a multi-pronged approach that includes “psychoeducation, medication and psychotherapeutic interventions such as coaching skills, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and counselling,” said Dr Gangaram. “Treatment often reduces ADHD symptoms and improves their psychosocial functioning. For example, it could make them more productive at work by enhancing their focus and organisational skills.”
Individuals with adult ADHD can be productive at work with the right tools. “They could benefit from a structured work environment and problem-solving skills that are practical in managing day-to-day problems, such as getting to work on time, prioritising and completing tasks in a timely manner,” said Dr Gangaram.
“Having a good understanding of their condition helps them in improving their interpersonal and social skills, which in turn, helps them and their co-workers.”