ADHD: It Isn't What You Think


When you think of what ADHD looks like, you might think of a ten year old boy who can't sit still. Did you know that ADHD can look quite different for different people? Children and teens with ADHD can face a different set of real life challenges than adults with ADHD - and furthermore, women with ADHD may present different symptoms than men. 

Let's start with the basics. ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. In the past, the term used was ADD - which stood for Attention Deficit Disorder - but that designation was changed to include the hyperactivity element that often presents itself in some people with the condition. It is important to note that not all people who have ADHD are hyperactive. There are three main components to the condition: inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsivity. The condition may present all three of these facets or only one or two of them. So, the ten year old boy who can't pay attention or sit still might be a good example of ADHD, but another child who struggles just as much may be quiet, introverted and distracted. 

Common Symptoms of ADHD in Children:

1. Self focused behavior (not perceiving others wants or needs)
2. Interrupting  
3. Trouble waiting their turn
4. Extremely talkative ("no filter", verbalizes thoughts as they are happening)
5. Emotional Intensity
6. Unable to sit still
7. Unable to play quietly
8. Unfinished tasks (starts something and then gets distracted by something else)
9. Lack of focus (unable to follow directions or listen to details)
10. Avoiding tasks that require concentration (homework, learning a new skill, practicing skills)
11. Mistakes (misses important details, skips over things, rushes through tasks)
12. Lack of organization 
13. Forgetfulness (loses things repeatedly, forgets responsibilities or chores, has poor hygiene)
14. Hyper-focus (may become completely absorbed in an activity and has a difficult time transitioning or being interrupted)

A child with ADHD may not present all of the symptoms listed above, or may have others not listed. The key is consistency. If a child seems to struggle with symptoms like those listed, it may end up causing long term negative effects on their success as an adult if it is not addressed. "The squeaky wheel gets the oil", as they say, so children who lean toward the hyperactivity side often get recognized by parents and teachers more often because they may be disruptive. 

Adults struggling with ADHD may face a different set of challenges. Symptoms may cause problems at work and in relationships or lack of financial stability. 


Common Symptoms of ADHD in Adults:

1. Impulsivity (spending money, jumping into relationships or commitments, need for constant change i.e. new hair styles/colors, rearranging furniture, trying new products, changing jobs frequently, moving frequently)
2. Disorganization (difficulty prioritizing, messy living or work space, illogical functioning)
3. Poor time management skills (unable to estimate time needed for an activity, arriving late or early, missing deadlines, missing events or appointments)
4. Lack of focus (constantly distracted while working on a task or engaging in activity)
5. Hyper-focus (unable to multitask or extremely irritated by interruptions when trying to focus on a task)
6. Restlessness (pacing while on the phone, compulsively checking phone/email, trouble relaxing, trouble sitting in meetings or events, unable to pay attention to TV shows or movies)
7. Poor planning (related to impulsivity, commencing activity without foresight i.e. starting a home project without the proper tools, buying furniture that will not fit in the space, forgetting to have a pet sitter when you go out of town.)
8. Low tolerance for frustration (challenges to accomplishing a task are excruciating and overwhelming)
9. Moodiness (irritable, emotional sensitivity, may have hot temper)
10. Sensory sensitivity (noise, touch, taste, cutting out tags of shirts & avoiding certain materials)
11. Poor follow through (works on a task but procrastinates finishing last steps or doesn't complete at all, dread of follow through on commitments or makes excuses to get out of things)
12. No filter (rambles, talks incessantly, may say inappropriate things or insensitive things, interrupts)
13. Low tolerance for stress (unable to function under constant stress but surprisingly, may be good in emergencies)

Most people will experience some of these symptoms at some point in their life, but again, for an ADHD diagnosis, the key is consistency. A good question to ask is: Are these symptoms your default response and is there a history of these symptoms in your life long term?


Interestingly, more women than ever are being diagnosed with ADHD. 
Studies are showing that females present symptoms of ADHD differently than males. Symptoms are often more outwardly subtle - there is less of a tendency toward hyperactivity and impulsivity and more tendency toward the inattentiveness and distractibility side of the condition. Women, being the strong and amazing creatures that we are, tend to suppress the symptoms of ADHD and it becomes more of an internal struggle that can lead to depression and anxiety, which tend to manifest outwardly and can lead to misdiagnosis. Women with ADHD may struggle chronically with mental fog - an inability to sort out their thoughts. They may have rapid paced thinking that is exhausting. They are easily distracted from tasks, commonly by their own thoughts, and have a difficult time staying on track. 

Women with the condition tend to be hyper-sensitive emotionally, intuitively and physically. They have extreme sensitivity to noise, light and touch. They may avoid physical contact or flinch when they are touched or cut the tags out of clothing. Time management is a common problem and running late may be an everyday occurrence. Women with ADHD may feel perpetually overwhelmed and worry about "losing it" or "being able to hold it all together". When presented with something that requires problem solving, critical or spatial thinking, the very idea of having to focus may cause her to shut down or have extreme anxiety. It may be difficult to make choices or decisions, even seemingly insignificant ones, for example, which shampoo to buy. Forgetfulness, disorganization, scattered thinking, and introversion may all be daily challenges. 

ADHD can be a double edged sword. In many cases, people with this condition are highly intelligent and creative. They are often intuitive and have keen awareness of more subtle details. Unfortunately, ADHD can also be mentally crippling and destructive. People with this condition may feel they are fighting an invisible battle every waking moment. They feel like they should be able to do the things that are so difficult for them. They feel like they just can't get it together and may hold a great burden of shame on their shoulders.
Worse, there are still many people who don't believe ADHD is a real condition.
Symptoms can be perceived as laziness or lack of intelligence. This stigma creates yet another hurdle for those struggling as it discourages them from seeking treatment and adds to the shame and confusion they are already feeling. 


Currently, there are several medications available to treat ADHD - many of which help increase level and production of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. When the levels of these neurotransmitters are low, it causes an inability to focus and results in the symptoms I have described previously. When these neurotransmitters are supplemented through medication, the brain reaches a normal balance and is able to better process information and sustain focus and concentration. People that receive treatment for ADHD do not feel "high" or intoxicated - they just finally feel more normal and are able to function. There are also other treatment options like lifestyle changes and therapy that are shown helpful in managing symptoms. 

If you were nodding your head as you read through the common symptoms of ADHD, I encourage you to seek help. The good news is, uncovering it is half the battle. By learning more about the condition and seeking treatment options, you are taking control of the situation and not letting the situation control you. I was amazed to learn more about the different ways this condition can present itself. It can be tricky to diagnose because it is not a one-size-fits-all kind of issue and it's symptoms parallel several other conditions like bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety.


The best advice I can give is that if you are being treated for something and the treatment plan is not working, keep searching for the right fit. I was treated with antidepressants for over a decade for a secondary symptom of the actual condition I have. I never felt that my issue was resolved and kept struggling. I'm glad I pushed for an answer.
At the end of the day, you are the only one who knows what you are going through - sometimes it is not obvious even to those closest to you.
Hopefully this post will give you some insight into a condition that is often misunderstood and sadly, left undetected.   




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