Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a neurobiological and mental health condition that is commonly thought of as a problem of childhood. The myth that ADHD only or primarily affects children is a harmful one, however, as we know that up to 60% of children diagnosed with ADHD will be affected into adulthood. Due to increased awareness and better diagnostic criteria for ADHD in recent years, the disorder is identified more readily now than it was in the past. Many adults may not know they have ADHD, though they may recognize that they struggle more with daily tasks than others do. Approximately 4% of the adult population has ADHD.
There are many misconceptions about adult ADHD. Let’s examine some of these myths:
Adult ADHD Myths
Myth: ADHD is more serious in children than in adults.
Fact: ADHD in adults can be just as debilitating as it can be for kids, and untreated ADHD in adults can have dire consequences. In adults, ADHD is linked to difficulties with performance at school and work, as well as a higher likelihood of unemployment, alcohol and substance use, legal issues, car accidents, interpersonal and relationship problems, co-occuring mental health problems and suicide.
Myth: ADHD is the result of poor parenting or is just an excuse for laziness, and it can easily be overcome with effort and discipline.
Fact: ADHD is a recognized medical and psychological disorder, and research shows that the brains of people with ADHD have significant imbalances in neurotransmitter activity. Though everyone can occasionally experience some difficulty with focusing, for those with ADHD these symptoms are unrelenting and cause ongoing issues with daily functioning in ways that date back to childhood. For those with ADHD, it may not matter how much they try to pay attention, how well rested or relaxed they are, or how critical the task is—they will face the same barriers.
Myth: Women aren’t affected by adult ADHD.
Fact: Research shows that the incidence of ADHD in adult men and women is roughly the same, but it is true that ADHD is diagnosed three times more often in boys than in girls. The disparity indicates that ADHD is likely being under-diagnosed in girls, which means that many women are coping with the disorder into adulthood without appropriate treatment. Girls with ADHD Inattentive Type are especially prone to not being identified, as their symptoms often present as daydreaming and tuning out rather than the hyperactive and impulsive behaviours that are more readily identified by teachers and parents as a problem.
Myth: ADHD looks the same in children as it does in adults.
Fact: It’s true that many symptoms of ADHD are the same across age groups, as children and adults with ADHD struggle with executive function skills and both may experience mood swings, hyperactivity, impulsivity, and attentional dysregulation. But these symptoms often present very differently between younger and older people. For example, hyperactivity in children can manifest as a feeling of perpetual restlessness or a tendency toward overworking in adults. Similarly, impulsivity in children can look like verbal outbursts, whereas adults may exhibit reckless spending or risky driving behaviours.
If you or someone you know may be coping with adult ADHD, there are many effective treatments that can help to improve daily functioning and increase well-being. The first step is to see your physician or a qualified psychologist for an assessment.
By: Zoë Laksman, Psy.D, C.Psych and Laura Clarridge, Ph.D.
Zoë Laksman has practiced as a Registered Clinical Psychologist at The Clinic on Dupont since 2007. Laura Clarridge is a certified executive coach who helps her clients find fulfilling educational and career pathways. Their backgrounds and training have shaped their interest in promoting improved psychological health, interpersonal functioning and wellness. They work together as a clinical team and as the developers of The Clinic on Dupont’s online presence.