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Adult ADHD: Symptoms

Adult ADHD has the same characteristics as childhood ADHD: inattention and distractibility, restlessness and impulsivity. However, two things distinguish true, clinical ADHD from ordinary distractibility and forgetfulness in adults. First, the symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity must be so severe that they are disruptive to a person’s life in at least two of three areas – work, home and social life. Second, a pattern of symptoms -- even if they have changed over time -- must have first started in some form before age 7. Adults do not suddenly develop ADHD; it’s a lifetime spectrum disorder that starts in childhood.

As with childhood ADHD, adults can have one of three subtypes of the condition, primarily inattentive, primarily hyperactive/impulsive, or a combination. But these symptoms play out differently in adults.

Inattentive Type
The ADHD child who forgot his crayons may develop into the college student who shows up for the wrong exam or the lawyer who fails to file key court papers on time. Or she might be a homemaker who can’t cope with daily tasks like laundry and picking up kids from school. ADHD adults often progress from having messy rooms as kids to having disorganized work spaces, cars and houses.

Hyperactive/Impulsive Type
An ADHD adult isn’t going to run circles around the conference table, but he may interrupt his colleagues constantly with irrelevant comments, drum his fingers on the table and leave meetings frequently for no reason. He’ll start 10 projects and finish few. No one wants to be his partner for a presentation.

Combined Hyperactive-impulsive and Inattentive Type
An ADHD she may max out her credit cards every time there’s a shoe sale, even if she has a closet full of shoes at home. Combine impulse buying with an inability to focus on unpleasant tasks, such as balancing a bank account or paying bills, and it’s easy to see why ADHD adults can sometimes have financial problems. She may also have constant relationship drama and an inability to stick with one partner for any length of time.