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Could I have adult attention deficit disorder (ADD)? Attention deficit disorder in adults

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Have you spent years wondering "What's wrong with me?" "Why can’t I finish what I start?" "Why I can’t organize my time like others do?"

While we are all aware of attention deficit disorder (ADHD) in children, we seldom hear anything about attention deficit in adults. Actually this should surprise us since studies show that approximately 50% of children properly diagnosed with ADHD will take it with them into adulthood. ADHD is one of the most common neuropsychological disorders encountered during childhood (between 5% and 20% of the child population suffers from it). These percentages are very important and we must keep in mind that today’s adults were rarely diagnosed and treated during childhood, as 30 years ago it was not common for school programs to include screening for potential learning problems and disorders like ADHD. Additionally, there were very few professionals trained in ADHD.

Many already know that childhood ADHD involves problems with attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. There are 3 subtypes of ADHD, each depending on the predominance of one or other symptoms. While it is likely that in adults the symptoms will abate and that some of the characteristics change (primarily those related to hyperactivity), the adult will continue to struggle with adjustment problems as a result of ADHD.

But how does ADHD evolve over time? This disorder (with an important genetic component) is caused by deterioration in the so-called Executive Functions, which see to the following: 

  • the ability to initiate an activity
  • the ability to stay focused and hold attention and effort on a task
  • low tolerance to frustration and emotion regulation
  • the use of working memory and recall
  • the monitoring of an activity

As a result of the breakdown of these functions, these individuals fail to use organizational and planning strategies, and to control procrastination, avoidance, distraction, etc., which often leads to a history of academic, professional and personal project failures. This will very likely end up creating negative thoughts and beliefs about oneself that can be harmful when facing a new task: “I’m not going to finish”; “I can’t do this”. Additionally, they can increase the avoidance of tasks that involve more effort as well as the distractibility while carrying them out. This way of seeing oneself over time often leads to issues of self-esteem, low mood, anxiety, guilt or anger at self (which alone make working more difficult), thus closing a vicious circle.

What characterizes an adult with ADHD?
An adult with ADHD will tend to make more mistakes than expected, not plan activities, experience frequent distractions and have difficulty staying focused on tasks that require it. They procrastinate tasks and have a lot of difficulty completing them. In some cases, they are forgetful and absentminded- losing objects such as sunglasses, cell phone, keys, etc. Self- control problems may also be present, for example, not thinking before acting, or reacting very quickly without considering the consequences or with disregard to social norms (for example, not waiting his or her turn to talk, or answering before the question is complete.) This is usually accompanied by an internal state of restlessness and difficulty relaxing, with frequent movement of hands and legs while sitting, a hard time staying seated for a period of time and often talking more than necessary.

How does this affect their daily life?
These symptoms have an impact on different areas in the life of an adult with ADHD. They typically have lower academic and work performance, more job mobility -performing tasks below their skills and training level, more unstable relationships with higher rates of divorce or separation, relationship issues with children, and struggles in social relationships or having few close friends. Also it is observed more and more frequently that driving is problematic, with more aggressive driving resulting in infractions, fines and more frequent minor accidents.

If you or someone you know can relate to all of this, it helps to know that there are professionals available to assess whether the problem is due to adult ADHD, and if so, recommend the most appropriate treatment for it. At Sinews we have professionals who work with an assessment protocol designed specifically for ADHD in adults.

We recently improved this protocol with the addition of an assessment instrument that specifically measures executive functions that, as stated above, explain the distinctive difficulties and behaviors of ADD.

If you are one of those people who wonder why you struggle to complete tasks, reach your goals in the medium to long term, and organize your day-to-day life, a treatment plan with some of these objectives could be of great help to you:

  • Learning tools to improve organization and planning, multitasking, problem-solving or management of tasks requiring overexertion, perseverance and organization of papers
  • Learning to reduce distractions
  • Developing “adaptive” thinking (instead of attributing your difficulties and poor performance to lack of willpower, lack of motivation, inability, laziness…)
  • Successful application of these tools to avoid apathy and demotivation
  • Relapse prevention
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