Are you repeatedly engaging in behaviors that are not serving you well – behaviors such as procrastination, interrupting, impulsiveness, inattention, disorganization, distractibility, or poor starting or finishing of tasks? If so, you might reasonably be asking yourself, “Might I have ADHD, or at least some ADHD characteristics?”
There are a lot of myths and much misinformation in the public mind about ADHD. You might want to start by getting clear about the facts. Not everyone who is late or disorganized or absentminded has ADHD. Current statistics indicate that only about 4.5 percent of adults would qualify for an ADHD diagnosis.
What is ADHD? The National Resource Center on ADHD, a program of Children and Adults with ADHD (CHADD), has posted this article giving the latest criteria doctors should refer to when making a diagnosis.
I find myself looking to recent science and research to understand ADHD, because so much is currently being learned about our brains. One place to find summaries of current research will take you back to the site of the National Resource Center on ADHD. On this page you are even invited to contact the Center’s librarian or to “Ask the Expert” if you aren’t finding the answers you need.[You might want to stay on the site of the National Resource Center on ADHD and browse some of the other pages for information regarding diagnosis and treatment, school issues, living with ADHD symptoms, among other topics.]
“Attention Research Update,” a resource compiled by Dr. David Rabiner of Duke University, also offers summaries of current research on ADHD. Sign up there and receive reports by email several times a year, or read Dr. Rabiner’s archived reports going back to the late 1990s.
After you have a few of the basic facts and have corrected for some of the myths, here are some options you may want to consider as you ponder the question, “Do I have ADHD of something like it?”
- You have the choice of pursuing a diagnosis, or not. Some people take one of the screening tests that are readily available online and gain a clearer sense of whether ADHD is likely. That’s actually what my husband Neil did, after realizing at age 60 that ADHD might be what was going on for him. He found himself checking off just about every box in a World Health Organization self-screening questionnaire. If, after a screening test, you want a formal diagnosis, be sure to find a qualified doctor who understands the DSM-V requirements for a proper ADHD diagnosis and follows them. There are many ways to educate yourself about ADHD (see above), whether or not you decide to pursue a diagnosis, and there are many ADHD-savvy coaches and therapists who will provide services without an official diagnosis.
- If you are diagnosed with ADHD, you have the choice to keep that information private or to share it with others. This decision should be considered carefully, recognizing that it is an important decision and your choice will be unique to you and to your particular family, work, school, and social situations. Some day we hope there will be much wider understanding of ADHD and much more willingness on the part of employers and educators and people in general to embrace neurodiversity and recognize the enormous contributions that are made by people who think outside the box. But since we don’t live in that world yet, you will want to consider this question carefully.
- You can choose to begin treatment. Formal treatment for ADHD seems to work best if it is multimodal – involving more than one approach such as medicine, therapy, and/or coaching. You might find a medical doctor experienced with ADHD who can guide you through the various prescription drugs until you find one that works for you (about 80 percent of people are ultimately successful in finding a drug or combination of drugs that works well for them). You may also find some help from behavior therapy and from coaching with a life coach who has been trained to work with ADHD. Remember that not all therapists or coaches who work with ADHD will require that you have a formal diagnosis.
- You can blame your brain and stop blaming yourself. This doesn’t mean you now have an excuse for bad behavior, but understanding your ADHD does give you an explanation for things you haven’t previously understood about yourself. To me this is one of the biggest reasons for learning about ADHD. Most people who grow up with untreated ADHD also grow up with a low sense of self-worth. Learning that your challenges have been the result of brain wiring you were born with and not your laziness or moral shortcomings can make a huge difference in the way you see yourself, and thus in the way you experience life going forward. You can begin to understand your unique constellation of ADHD challenges and discover your many personal strengths and strategies for overcoming these challenges.
- You can find your tribe. Something like 4.5 percent of adults worldwide have ADHD (85 percent of them have not been diagnosed), and an even larger percentage of people have some ADHD tendencies. Once you know what you’re dealing with, you can find groups of other people facing similar challenges and meet regularly with them. One place to find support groups is through CHADD. A group can give you a sense of community and a safe place to “come out” among people who understand. It is also an opportunity to share with and learn from others, since you all have undoubtedly found some things that work for you that may work for others.