Understanding adults with ADHD.

It is common for people to associate Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), previously known as ADD as effecting children however even if you weren’t diagnosed with ADHD as a child, ADHD can affect people in their adulthood. If you are constantly late, disorganised, forgetful, trouble concentrating, staying focused or overwhelmed from your responsibilities and you are chronically impaired by these symptoms then there is a possibility that you have ADHD.

Previously ADHD often went unrecognised in childhood and these children were labelled as troublemakers, bad students, slackers, dreamers etc.  Children can sometimes manage their symptoms whilst they are young but as pressures and responsibilities (career, family, running a household etc) increase as an adult, the symptoms become a lot harder to handle and affect everything from relationships to your career. The good thing is the symptoms of ADHD can be managed with support, education and you may even be able to turn your symptoms into something positive. 

It is unknown what exactly causes ADHD but it is thought to be a combination of genes, environment and differences in how the brain is wired.   Some people who have undiagnosed ADHD are viewed as lacking willpower, but the behaviour is actually due to a chemical problem in the management systems of the brain.  A person with ADHD is also six times more likely to have another psychiatric or learning disorder than most other people.

Symptoms of ADHD in adults.

The symptoms of ADHD can look quite different for each person and the symptoms in adults can be different to children with ADHD for example, adults often don’t show signs of hyperactivity like children.  Here are some signs of ADHD in adults;

Trouble concentrating and staying focused  

  • Easily distracted by low-priority activities.
  • Having multiple thoughts all at once and difficultly following just one thought.
  • Difficulty focusing, for example when reading or listening to others.
  • Struggling to complete tasks.
  • A tendency to overlook details and not able to complete work.
  • Difficulty following directions.
  • Gets bored quickly


  • Poor organizational skills
  • Procrastinates
  • Chronic lateness
  • Frequently forgetting appointments, commitments, deadlines
  • Constantly losing or misplacing things (keys, wallet, phone, documents, bills).
  • Underestimating the time it will take to complete tasks.


  • Frequently interrupting others or talking over them
  • Poor self-control, addictive tendencies
  • Blurting out thoughts that are rude or inappropriate without thinking
  • Acting recklessly and without regard for consequences
  • Trouble behaving in socially appropriate ways

Emotional Difficulties

  • Easily flustered
  • Eplosive, temper
  • Low self-esteem
  • Trouble staying motivated
  • Hypersensitive to criticism

Hyperactivity or restlessness

  • Racing thoughts
  • Getting bored easily, craving excitement
  • Talking excessively, doing multiple things at once
  • Trouble sitting still

Self help

Although the symptoms of ADHD can be challenging, many adults are able to manage their symptoms and even take advantage of their gifts.  There is a lot you can do to help yourself and get your symptoms under control.

Practice your time management. Set deadlines for tasks and use timers or alarms to help you stay on track with your time. 

Communication in relationships.  When people are speaking listen to what they are saying and keep on topic.  Tell people about your struggles with ADHD so they can understand and support you.   

Create a supportive work environment.  Organise your work the best you can and team up with a colleague that is good at organising to give you some ideas and assistance.  Try to choose work that motivates and interests you. 

Practice mindfulness. This may be challenging for adults with ADHD but you can try meditating for short periods and slowly work on lengthening the time. 

Exercise, eat healthfully and get plenty of sleep. Exercise can help work off excess energy and aggression, eating healthy foods and limiting sugary foods will help with mood swings and get enough sleep as it is more difficult to concentrate and stay on task when you are fatigued. 

Seeking help for adult ADHD.

If you are still experiencing difficulties in managing your ADHD despite self-help efforts, then you may benefit from counselling, self-help groups, education assistance or medication.  Professionals can help you develop and maintain organisation skills, manage stress, improve time management and control impulsive behaviours. 

To hear from someone who has ADHD here is a nice Ted Talk from Jessica McCabe about having ADHD and her success story (see video below).

Written by:

Kimberley Aguet (Counsellor)

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