What is Adult ADHD?

In the past few years, much attention has been given to the topic of “Adult ADHD.” But what is Adult ADHD and how does it differ from what children and teens experience?

Many individuals who had difficulties with attention, hyperactivity/impulsivity, or both as children continue to have challenges in these areas as adults. However, symptoms of ADHD tend to present differently in adulthood than in childhood. This is because over time, perhaps without realizing it, we learn ways to manage or channel these symptoms, particularly the hyperactive symptoms. In fact, adults rarely show the kind of hyperactivity that we often think of when we imagine a child who has ADHD. Instead, those who were hyperactive as children may find that, as adults, they are able to stay seated, but they tend to fidget, are overly talkative, interrupt others in conversations, or make impulsive decisions.

Even though all adults who have ADHD also had difficulties with attention and/or hyperactivity in childhood, some individuals are able to compensate for these difficulties in early life, so their symptoms are not fully apparent until they begin college or enter the workplace. This may be the case for people who worked harder than others to perform well in school and who had good support systems, but who find that they are not able to achieve the same results when they enter a situation that is more demanding and has less external structure, such as college or a job. At that time, the attention difficulties that were already present become harder to manage and begin to get in the way more and more often.

Some of the challenges experienced by adults who have ADHD include forgetfulness, trouble paying attention to details, difficulty with planning and organization, and a low tolerance for frustration. When untreated, these challenges can lead to underachievement at school or work as well as interpersonal difficulties. Not surprisingly, these challenges can create stress, frustration, and feelings of sadness, and individuals who have untreated ADHD often have accompanying difficulties with anxiety, depression, substance use, and sleep problems.

Fortunately, once ADHD is diagnosed, many tools are available to help adults manage their symptoms. Further, many people find relief from understanding the reasons for their challenges, which until that point they may have misattributed to laziness or irresponsibility. Meeting with a psychologist for a diagnostic interview and possibly psychological testing can help obtain a proper diagnosis.


Christine Howard, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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