Adult ADD / ADHD: Myth, Excuse, or Reality?

April 17, 2007 8:02 pm Published by

I am going to post a three-part series on Adult ADD / ADHD.

The first deals with understanding what ADD / ADHD really is. The second takes a look at the issue of overdiagnosis. The third discusses the impact of ADHD characteristics in the workplace.


Adult ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is one of those terms that elicits a variety of reactions from people. Some laugh with a derisive tone. Others eyes brighten as if you understand them. Many have that puzzled, quizzical look demonstrating their lack of knowledge of the condition.

Clarifying the terms ADD & ADHD

Let’s first get our terminology correct. ADD (whether adult or otherwise) is no longer the current term used by professionals (although many teachers and non-professionals still use it. The correct diagnostic term is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The confusion largely comes from the fact that an individual may have ADHD and not be hyperactive. This is because there are three subtypes of ADHD: a) the hyperactive-impulsive type (sort of your classic “wild boy” that many of us associate ADHD with); b) the inattentive subtype (which used to be called ADD without Hyperactivity); and c) a combined type which has aspects of both hyperactivity/impulsivity and inattentiveness (again, however, an ADHD-combined person may not be hyperactive; they just could be inattentive + impulsive).

The reason this clarification of terminology is needed is because many people when they hear or read about Adult ADHD (or if a friend or relative asks them if they are ADHD), firmly state: “No. I can’t be ADHD because I am not hyperactive — and never have been.”

Characteristics of Adult ADHD

Like any diagnostic category, Adult ADHD (or really, ADHD as found in adults) both describes common characteristics shared by many people but also allows for individual variations. That is, there are adults with ADHD who are very similar and those who are quite different from one another, depending on their individual characteristics and subtype.

Let us look at some clusters of symptoms grouped by general categories.

Attention / Concentration Issues

*short attention span *struggles maintaining mental focus *easily distracted off task *forgetful *can’t pay attention for long in lectures *spaces off during conversations *misplaces items *loses train of thought while reading *starts a lot of tasks but finishes few *distracted by their own thoughts *distracted by things in their environment

Hyperactivity / Fidgetiness

*moves at a fast pace *can’t sit still for long *frequently fidgets with things *legs bounce when sitting *gets agitated if sits for long *doesn’t need much sleep *always “on the go” *frequently looking forward to the “next thing”, struggles living in the present


*does and says things “on impulse” *talks a lot *interrupts others *speaks mind bluntly *very spontaneous *makes quick decisions *doesn’t think through consequences *excitement seeking *problems managing money *focused on the “now” *puts off tasks & work until later


*poor organizational skills *problems managing paperwork *can get “hyperfocused” on a task procrastinates *dives into new projects then loses interest quickly *easily frustrated *quick temper (but gets over it quickly)

We have described what ADHD looks like in adults. In my next entry, we will discuss the issue of overdiagnosis of ADHD in our culture and the challenges this creates.


Published by
April 17, 2007 8:02 pm

1 Comment

  • Rachel says:

    When I read this all I could think of was Tom Cruise and his comments re depression. Articles like this are highly irresponsible.

    As an adult that grew up wondering what was wrong with me, why was I so different? Always feeling depression, anxiety.. The hyperness.. The sadness… Sorry Folks, ADHD is REAL. As real as Depression and it can bring on depression due to the loneliness our disability/disorder inflicts on us.

    Yes, some of us are different, some can get “better” with behavior modification and other alternative vitamins.. but many of us, that isn’t the option.

    I grew up in the Caribbean. I didn’t have TV to watch all day; didn’t want to anyways. The ocean was my playground. Water is safe there, free of lead, so that wasn’t the cause. No there wasn’t lead base paint in my home.

    My mother had us eat the 5 food groups with every dinner, no, missing breakfast and lunch. And a Salad was included every day. So, that wasn’t the problem either.

    She had be taking a vitamin b complex and massage therapy – that helped a bit, but no that didn’t cure me either.

    So, as an adult, suicidal emotions were rampant. I’ve stayed away from Drugs, alcohol, and anything that could be addictive (oops, I do smoke cigarettes, hard to stop, as they REALLY do calm me down) – didn’t want to try any street drugs as I was scared of really liking them, and what the outcome would be. I don’t even like taking any medication for basic pains either, headaches, back pain. Nothing

    Doctors thought maybe bi-polar – no, cause the emotions were to rapid; Depression – those pills caused me to become suicidal; Maybe I had a personality disorder they thought – those pills made me a raving lunatic;

    Could it be ADHD? I asked.. My son has it, my father shows the signs. No, they said.. You are too old, Adults don’t have adhd. The kids grow out of it by the time they are 14 — YEAH RIGHT !!!! said with sarcasm – No ONE and I mean NO ONE wanted to acknowledge that I had ADHD! and NO ONE wanted to help me!

    Finally, Adults have finally been recognized. The first time I tried any medication was in a clinical study. Literally I could start SEEING better, HEARING better, not only did I get to pay attention more, feel more focused, feel more part of the society that seemed to shun me, so different.. I was able to become a part of it. It happened immediately.

    Everyone around me noticed the results immediately – it was like I entered the world of being human. I fit in.

    Unfortunately the drugs do build up in my system, and I have to cycle them, off and on. Am I aware? you bet, after a couple of weeks, I know, it is time to get on them again; People who are close to me (there aren’t many- I still have a hard time opening up to others, more out of habit today) let me know when again, because I am driving them insane. Unfortunately there isn’t a magic cure, YET, and it is all different for different people.. but I can assure you.

    Sorry Charlie — Doctors don’t really like giving ADHD medication as many of the Naysayer Dr’s likes to present. The reality, you have to Fight to get medicated.. You have to Fight the doctors, do so many tests to be correctly diagnosed, and forget about trying to change doctors — Did you know we have to make sure you go back each mth for a prescription – as expensive as that may be, because the Doctor could lose their license for prescribing multi mth doses? – oh, and let’s not forget your insurance company hassles, especially if you want to miss a couple of mths to purge!

    Why is Adhd so rampant today? Because Adults were Never diagnosed Correctly. We had to live in Hell because of the Naysayers like Baughman, who obviously has not lived within the mind of an individual like us.

    If it were such a myth – this ADHD – then explain WHY do we need to have Behavior modification, or eat special foods? WHY are there so many different Alternatives to help the individuals of this so called Myth?

    My question to the “dr’s” who believe this is a myth – have YOU Sat with a group (50 or more) ADULT Adhd individuals, and heard their stories.. See us before we take our meds, have us take our meds in front of you, and then see the difference.. listen to us speak, think, read, watch our attention, watch our body language.. before and after.. and then tell me that you still believe it isn’t real.

    Try to convince Us too that what we feel isn’t real. There would be a group of very unhappy people for sure.

    To the Dr’s Like Baughman and others who don’t believe, I think you have been out of the field for too long, for you to even be able to really get an honest perspective on this disorder.. it was people like YOU who put my life in jeopardy with your misdiagnoses.

    Yes Virginia – Indeed, there really is ADHD

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