ADHD in adults common, likely undiagnosed in youth

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John was in jeopardy of losing his job. He reported a history of problems at work and home because he forgot instructions, became overwhelmed with multiple tasks, and was often chastised because he appeared not to be listening.

He also reported being easily distracted by people moving around, phone calls and other interruptions; then he struggled to recall where he left off so that he could resume his work.

Consequently his productivity was low, and John felt discouraged, apprehensive about losing yet another job, and depressed.

As the child Johnny he recalled being told he could do so much better in school if only he would concentrate harder and stay on task.

His parents thought he was not interested in his studies because he would put off his school work or forget to do it.

Mary was disruptive in school, unwilling to sit in her seat, interrupted her teachers and classmates, and was disobedient at home.

Mary's parents were at their wits' end, and her teachers were insisting that Mary be medicated to be cooperative in class.

Mary's pediatrician had expressed willingness to prescribe medication but wanted a diagnostic workup by a psychologist to prescribe appropriate medication.

Both John and Mary are showing signs of Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a neurological condition that affects 3 to 5 percent of the population worldwide. John's symptoms are often found in people with the inattentive form of ADHD, while Mary's symptoms are more characteristic of the hyperactive-impulsive form of ADHD.

Several symptoms must be evident by the age of 12 for the diagnosis to be made, and the vast majority of people who have it come by it genetically (i.e., from a parent or grandparent).

Others who have ADHD acquire it through head trauma, sometimes at birth, sometimes by accident, high fevers, recurrent infections, and other events in early childhood.

Thus, there is no such thing as "adult-onset" ADHD. For an adult to be diagnosed with some form of ADHD, he or she must have shown signs of ADHD in childhood.

Symptoms of ADHD overlap quite a bit with other mental health conditions that do not have a neurological basis, such as depression and anxiety.

So it's important for the healthcare professional to consider all possible explanations for the client's symptoms and rule out those that don't apply before deciding on an ADHD diagnosis, as the treatments are very different.

If you or a loved one have been chronically struggling at school, at work, or interpersonally, now might be the most appropriate time to consult with a psychologist for an evaluation to determine the root cause of the problem.

Parents might learn that their child's behavior does not stem from willful disobedience or disinterest, and adult clients might come to understand that their ongoing problems at school, home, and-or work do not make them failures.

If the problems are caused by ADHD, they are imminently correctable.

Helene Stoller, Psy.D., is a non-practicing licensed psychologist and owner of Psychological & Counseling Associates of the Lowcountry, LLC in Bluffton.

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