What Does ADHD in Adults Look Like?

Though ADHD is a common neurodevelopment disorder of childhood, it most certainly presents in adults as well, as it can last into adulthood. It’s characterized by ongoing patterns of inattention (wandering off task, difficulty sustaining focus) and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity (restlessness, excessive fidgeting, interrupting, not considering consequences etc). Sometimes both of these behaviours will present, and sometimes just one of them.

Adults with ADHD may have experienced one or more of the following in childhood:

  • A parent with ADHD, which may have caused the parent to be:
    • Easily overwhelmed or emotionally explosive
    • Easily distracted, unreliable or inconsistent
    • Permissive OR authoritarian in their parenting style
    • Unstable in their employment or relationships
  • Difficulty in school
  • Lack of support or empathy from authority figures in their life;
  • Getting into trouble in school (overly talkative, underachievement, boredom, aggression)
  • Difficulty with social interaction; bullied OR being the bully; socially awkward/anxious

Signs and Symptoms of ADHD

Common signs and symptoms of ADHD include:

  • Inattention, including wandering off task, difficulty focusing, easily distracted, etc
  • Easily overwhelmed 
  • Restlessness, fidgeting, interrupting 
  • Making impulsive decisions and not considering consequences
  • Turbulence in work and relationships
  • Feeling like you “have a lot of feelings” 
  • Experiencing strong emotions
  • Forgetfulness and misplacing things
  • Difficulty completing tasks
  • Challenges with scheduling and organization

ADHD affects men more commonly than women, but many women have ADHD. One of the major difficulties with ADHD is when the individual starts to believe that symptoms of ADHD are actually character flaws (eg. I am lazy), and not symptoms of a neurodevelopment disorder that can be managed. This can lead to the development of other conditions, and ADHD is often comorbid with other conditions, meaning it is often experienced with other conditions, including: 

What it’s Like to Have ADHD

With ADHD, many people experience the following limiting beliefs, which are beliefs that we hold about ourselves and the world that become part of our identity:

  • I’m incapable
  • I’m cannot succeed
  • I’m lazy
  • I’m not good enough
  • I’m inferior
  • There’s something wrong with me
  • I’m not in control

Many people with ADHD experience a chronic sense of underachievement, inconsistency, and negative feedback from others. This is especially true when:

  • a diagnosis comes later in life
  • ADHD is not adequately treated, or 
  • when early-life caregivers do not have an accurate understanding of ADHD symptoms and mechanisms. 

Inattention or difficulty with motivation may be perceived as laziness or a lack of motivation, when in reality the brain is not able to perform the cognitive functions required of it in a particular situation. These factors might in turn internalize the limiting beliefs even more.

These limiting beliefs might then lead to compensatory behaviours, or dysfunctional needs:

  • I need to succeed
  • I need to be perfect
  • I need to prove myself
  • I need to be in control

Shift’s Approach to ADHD Treatment

As with all disorders and psychological concerns, Shift’s approach is to get to the root of the presenting concern, including the limiting beliefs outlined above. The ultimate goal of treatment for ADHD at Shift is to remove these limiting beliefs and dysfunctional needs that inhibit a sense of hope and self-efficacy. This is done through a technique known as bilateral stimulation, and all Shift psychologists are trained on how to use this technique. 

Additional therapeutic interventions may include:

  • Conducting what is known as a Life Analysis, to determine an individual’s needs and make sure they’re making enough time for those needs
  • Time management and scheduling techniques
  • Energy Matching, which is determining when an individual’s high and low energy points occur, and scheduling tasks during these times

With these therapeutic interventions, we can open the way to recognizing strengths and weaknesses with a level of acceptance and self-compassion for individuals with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.