ADHD Symptoms in Adults & Children
What are the symptoms of ADHD and ADD?
Are there specific signs, habits, quirks, or obvious behaviors?
Short answer: Yes.
Things to Know About ADHD Before You See a Doctor
We always recommend you see a doctor for a proper diagnosis. That said, it is a very good idea to get to know what the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are, and see if some sound familiar to you. Not all of them will. ADHD involves many parts of the brain, and over 100 suspect genes have been identified.
The following ADHD symptoms list, and screeners are useful tools to not only find out what ADHD is, the screeners can be filled in, and used by your healthcare professional in the diagnostic process. Win – win! You’ll also find them below in our descriptions, but if you want to see them, or download them right now, if you’re too excited to wait and read on, here they are!
Struggling? Could It Be ADHD?
Here’s what you should know:
- The core symptom of ADHD is Problems With Attention. How does that show up in real life? Forgetfulness, procrastination, overwhelm, disorganization, losing track of things, thoughts, or conversations, tuning out, not listening, and feeling overwhelmed.
This is known as The Predominantly Inattentive Subtype of ADHD. (Some call this ADD for short.)
- If you also struggle with Hyperactivity and Impulsivity you may have the more familiar version of ADHD, known as The Combined Subtype. (ADHD for short.)
Hyperactivity and Impulsivity may sound vague – It means being restless, mercurial, impatient, overly talkative, super sensitive, driven, fidgety, unable to relax.
This is the version I have. Like most adults I’ve learned to internalize the agitation and impatience. But it can be exhausting.
- Doctors used to think kids grew out of ADHD. Then studies revealed that about 60% of kids diagnosed in childhood ADHD were still struggling with these symptoms in adulthood. (Source: Weiss G., 1993)
- Even if you were NOT diagnosed with ADHD as a child, if you’re struggling in adulthood, it could be ADHD. In the past 20 years it’s been well-diagnosed and even over-diagnosed in children in some places. But many adults were missed.
Today people in their 60’s and 70’s are getting diagnosed and finally have an explanation for their lives that makes sense. Many were misdiagnosed with Depression, Anxiety, or simply dismissed as lazy, dumb, weak, or unreliable.
- What looks like ADHD might actually be something else like Depression or Anxiety, or a Thyroid problem. A trained healthcare professional who understands ADHD will be able to help you sort it out.
- ADHD is situational. For example, blurting things out is helpful for me when I’m doing comedy on stage. It’s not helpful when someone is in the middle of sharing a very personal story and pouring their heart out!
It’s Not Just a List of Symptoms
Everyone forgets things, loses stuff, gets overwhelmed. What makes it a disorder?
- The symptoms must be present in childhood. Not just lately, since you started a new job, or quit college, or your marriage ended. (ADHD is strongly genetic. It runs in families.)
A sibling, parent, or friend who knew you in childhood may provide a better perspective on what you were like. (We can be notoriously bad at self assessment, or remembering what life was like.)
That said, a brain injury or concussion to the pre-frontal cortex can produce many of the symptoms of ADHD. Again, a doctor can tell.
- It is called a “disorder” because it is impairing you. When the symptoms are ongoing and holding you back it’s considered a disorder, and much can be done about it. Is it costing you opportunities, relationships, money, and self-esteem? It’s worth getting handled.
No one shows up at their doctor’s office because they’re doing great.
- The symptoms must be impairing in more than one situation. Not just at your job, sitting in church, preparing for exams, or when your mom calls.
How is adult ADHD or ADD distinct?
For adults with ADHD the problems around Inattention are the most apparent.
The childhood Hyperactivity and Impulsivity, on the other hand, tends to soften with age. Adults shut down, or turn their excess energy into nervous tension, anxiety, or depression.
By adulthood most adults have developed a few coping strategies and only suffer from 4 or 5 of the symptoms, rather than 6 or more. But it’s still a problem.
Others find outlets for their energy through an exciting or engaging career (First Responders, Entrepreneurs, Athletes, Entertainers) or pursuing hobbies that provide lots of challenge.
You don’t HAVE TO take ADHD Medications. For some people they can make an almost instant and dramatic impact, “For me it’s like the best cup of coffee in the world. And without the jitters.”
The Downside of ADHD – The Costs
Being restless and impulsive can lead to constant novelty seeking (multiple job changes, frequent moves, a million things started but never finished)
People who are undiagnosed and untreated may find it leads to high-risk behaviour, or addictions to shopping, sex, or gambling.
People with ADHD have higher rates of smoking and illegal drug use. (Source: Pelham WE, 2007) Also:
- Being at-fault for multiple car accidents
- Multiple divorces
- Bankruptcy or financial problem
- Feeling frustrated, impatient
- Sense of underachieving
- Losing track of what you were saying
Almost 70% of adults with ADHD have also struggled with a second issue like Depression, Anxiety, Substance Abuse, etc..
About 40% of adults have three or more diagnosis. (NIH – comorbid disorders)
A life of undiagnosed ADHD that hasn’t been dealt with adds a huge layer of stress. So in adults, ADHD rarely travels alone.
Getting A Reliable Diagnosis
Doctors arrive at an ADHD diagnosis by using a number of rating scales and an interview.
The physician’s main reference is the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5). It lists the criteria for all mental health issues.
ADHD Diagnostic Criteria
The following is a list of the criteria from the DSM-5 in shortened form. See this as a starting point and if it continues to sound familiar, look deeper, as it might well be ADHD.
People with ADHD show a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity–impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development:
Part 1 – Inattention:
Six or more symptoms of inattention for children up to age 16 years, or five or more for adolescents age 17 years and older and adults; symptoms of inattention have been present for at least 6 months, and they are inappropriate for developmental level:
- Often does not give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or other activities
- Often has trouble keeping attention on tasks or play activities
- Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
- Often does not follow instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (not due to oppositional behavior or failure to understand instructions)
- Often has trouble organizing tasks and activities
- Often avoids, dislikes, or doesn’t want to do things that take a lot of mental effort for a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework)
- Often loses things needed for tasks and activities (e.g. toys, school assignments, pencils, books, or tools)
- Is often easily distracted
- Is often forgetful in daily activities
Part 2 – Hyperactivity and Impulsivity
Six or more symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity for children up to age 16 years, or five or more for adolescents age 17 years and older and adults; symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity have been present for at least 6 months to an extent that is disruptive and inappropriate for the person’s developmental level:
- Often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat
- Often gets up from seat when remaining in seat is expected
- Often runs about or climbs when and where it is not appropriate (adolescents or adults may feel very restless)
- Often has trouble playing quietly or enjoying leisure activities quietly
- Is often “on the go” or often acts as if “driven by a motor”
- Often talks excessively
- Often blurts out answers before questions have been finished
- Often has trouble waiting one’s turn
- Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games)
In addition, the following conditions must be met:
- Several inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive symptoms were present before age 12 years.
- Several symptoms are present in two or more settings, (such as at home, school or work; with friends or relatives; in other activities).
- There is clear evidence that the symptoms interfere with, or reduce the quality of, social, school, or work functioning.
- The symptoms are not better explained by another mental disorder (such as a mood disorder, anxiety disorder, dissociative disorder, or a personality disorder).
- The symptoms do not happen only during the course of schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder.
Based on the types of symptoms, three kinds (or presentations) of ADHD can occur:
Combined Presentation: if enough symptoms of both criteria inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity were present for the past 6 months
Predominantly Inattentive Presentation: if enough symptoms of inattention, but not hyperactivity – impulsivity, were present for the past six months
Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation: if enough symptoms of hyperactivity – impulsivity, but not inattention, were present for the past six months.
Adult ADHD Symptoms or Signs
Adults with ADHD, like children, may have some of the following symptoms, but not necessarily all of them (Please consult your healthcare professional for a diagnosis if you are struggling):
- A lifelong history of difficulty with attention
- A history of disruptive or impulsive behavior
- Organizational skill problems (time management difficulties, missed appointments, frequently late, unfinished projects)
- Erratic work history (changing jobs frequently, unprepared for meetings, projects late, coworkers, & clients are frustrated)
- Anger control problems (with authority figures, over controls as parent, fights with coworkers or child’s teachers, episodes of rage)
- Marital problems (spouse complains that you do not listen, speaking without thinking, impulsive, forget important events)
- Being overly talkative, interrupt frequently or inappropriately, speak too loudly
- Parenting problems (difficulty maintaining routines, inconsistency in dealing with the children)
- Money management problems (impulsive purchases, run out of money, fail to pay bills or do taxes, history of bankruptcy)
- Substance use or abuse, especially alcohol or marijuana or excessive caffeine use
- Addictions such as collections, sexual avoidance or addiction, overeating, compulsive exercise or gambling
- Frequent accidents
- Problems with driving (speeding tickets, serious accidents, license revoked or overly cautious to compensate for attention problems)
- College student who is frustrated, reduces course load or has difficulty completing assignments
- Being a parent of a child with ADHD
- An ADHD diagnosis as a child and continuing to have problems
- Reports from those close to you that you are just like a child or relative with ADHD, or identifying you as having many of the symptoms associated with adult ADHD
- Not just coping poorly, but significantly impaired and at high risk of developing secondary (co-morbid) disorders i.e. anxiety & depression
- Successful but shows impairment when compared to their potential (a feeling of underachieving)
- Expend more energy than others to do the same amount of work
- Use coping strategies to compensate for weaknesses, but still experiencing problems with career & work relations, or workaholic
- You self diagnosed yourself, but you still need to go through a complete assessment
Adult ADHD is Rarely Solo
About 70% of adults with ADHD suffer from a secondary mental health issue. About 40% of adults with ADHD suffer from three or more issues. (Also see: Adult ADHD & comorbid disorders)
People with ADHD are reported to have much higher rates of:
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Oppositional Defiant Disorder
Borderline Personality Disorder
ADHD is a common disorder affecting nearly 4.4% of adults. While the adult may find a niche that allows some of their symptoms to be functional, the fact is that the majority of adults with this disorder tend to be impaired in other parts of their life. Awareness of the symptoms often happen when their own children have this genetically borne disorder diagnosed.
Wondering if you may have ADHD? Take our short online quiz – Do I Have ADHD?
American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition,
Arlington, VA., American Psychiatric Association, 2013
Given the nature of the disorder, it is not surprising that many people with ADHD often have other disorders like depression or substance abuse issues. Diagnosis and education (learning about you) are the corner stones of the treatment. Medication may also be a useful tool.
For More Information See:
23 Signs You Do Not Have ADHD – One of our most popular blogs by Rick Green
5 Superpowers of ADHD – a blog by Rick Green
Common ADHD Symptoms in Women – a blog by Keath Low
How Do I Find Out if I Have ADHD? – a blog by Rick Green
Source: Symptoms & Diagnosis of ADHD