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April 2nd, 2010 at 6:40 am

Clearing Up Misconceptions Of Adult ADD

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is well known due to the dramatically increasing number of children diagnosed with it in the last twenty years. My son was one of those children. He was diagnosed with ADD about seven years ago. My niece was also diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder only a couple of years ago.

Some people say it is over-diagnosed at least and often misdiagnosed at worst. Critics say that kids are just being kids and it is the parents and teachers who don’t want to “deal” with them. Even when people agree that ADD exists, they don’t agree on what should be done to treat it. Some think medication teamed with cognitive behavioral therapy is the best option while others prefer an all-natural approach.

And all of that controversy has been brewing over children being diagnosed with ADD. Yet more and more adults are also finding that they suffer from the disorder. It is an unfortunate truth that most people have a very specific idea of what someone with ADD acts like – hyper, moving all the time, distracted, uninterested and impulsive. While it is true that children with Attention Deficit Disorder have a harder time focusing and can act out in impulsive ways, they are often very intelligent, highly creative and determined in their pursuits.

I remember one teacher telling me that my son “just didn’t care” about his schoolwork. Nothing could have been further from the truth. He cared very much, he just couldn’t….he just couldn’t. That’s what happens with a child is found to have ADD.

When an adult is diagnosed with ADD the jokes begin, people look at you with skepticism, and some don’t believe it at all. I was diagnosed with Adult ADD last autumn and believe it when I say it’s been an enlightening experience. Before a diagnoses could be made, my doctor asked me a bunch of questions and suggested that I pick up a certain book to read. The doctor asked my to pay special attention to whether  I felt like I could relate to the case studies; if they sounded like my life to me.

Well I was skeptical to say the least. After all I had done well in school as a child and no one had ever suggested that I had any problems focusing or paying attention. However while I was reading  the book, “Driven to Distraction” by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. and John J. Ratey, M.D. I came across a list of suggested diagnostic criteria for ADD in adults. I was surprised at some of the behaviors on the list. Some of them weren’t at all what I would think of when thinking about ADD.

In order for a diagnosis of ADD to be considered, a person should display at least fifteen of the following on a consistent basis which impacts on their life.

Here are the twenty behaviors/characteristics:

  1. A sense of underachievement, of not meeting one’s goals. A feeling of “I just can’t get my act together.”
  2. Difficulty getting organized – more so than most people and in a way that seriously impacts their life.
  3. Chronic procrastination or trouble getting started.
  4. Many projects going simultaneously; trouble following through.
  5. Tendency to say what comes to mind without necessarily considering the timing or appropriateness of the remark.
  6. A frequent search for high stimulation – always on the lookout for something novel, different, engaging.
  7. An intolerance of boredom – more like an extreme hatred of boredom.
  8. Easy distractibility, trouble focusing, tendency to tune out or drift away in the middle of a page or conversation, often coupled with the ability to hyperfocus at times.
  9. Often creative, intuitive, highly intelligent – obviously not a symptom but a noteworthy trait of adults with ADD.
  10. Trouble in going through established channels or following “proper” procedure – this stems from boredom and frustration with doing routine things.
  11. Impatient; low tolerance for frustration.
  12. Impulsive, either verbally or in action, as in impulsive spending of money, changing plans, or starting new careers or jobs.
  13. Tendency to worry needlessly, endlessly. Tendency to scan the horizon looking for something to worry about. This is a perfect example of a behavior I would never have attributed to ADD.
  14. Sense of insecurity. Chronically, no matter how stable their situation is.
  15. Mood swings especially when disengaged from a person or project. Adults with ADD, more than children, are prone to unstable moods.
  16. Restlessness – usually adults don’t display the full-blown hyperactivity that you see in children with the disorder. Instead you’ll see fidgeting, “nervous energy”
  17. Tendency toward addictive behavior
  18. Chronic problems with self-esteem – Adults with ADD tend to feel defective no matter how much success they have achieved.
  19. Inaccurate self-observation – People with ADD do not accurately gauge the impact they have on other people. They usually see themselves as less effective or powerful than other people do. **This has been one of my major problems. For years people told me that I was a good writer and I thought they were crazy. When I first applies for freelance writing jobs, I was shocked that I got hired as often. Then I was amazed every time one of my employers would compliment my work.
  20. Family history of ADD or manic-depressive illness or depression or substance abuse or other disorders of impulse control or mood.

Only fifteen needed for a diagnosis. I currently display 18 out of the 20. My doctor prescribed medication but drugs alone aren’t going to allow me to get where I need and want to be. Therefore I have to focus on mindfully changing my behaviors. Meanwhile I want to spread more accurate information about adult ADD.

If you are interested in more information on ADD in adults or children or how to diagnosis and treat ADD, here are some resources”

Wikipedia – Adult attention deficit hyperactive disorder


  • 1

    Thank you so much for writing this blog about “Adult” ADD. I was actually diagnosed with ADHD about three years ago. I am now 56 and have had a lifetime of, “What’s wrong with me?” kind of questions running through my mind. It took a former supervisor to bring those thoughts to the surface and actually give “it” a name. I know it took great courage for her to approach me. She came into my office asking to speak with me. I said, “Of course!” So she closed the door and came right out with, “I need to ask you a question.” “Have you ever been tested for ADD?” I looked up at her with a shock that nearly took my breath away. I felt tears begin to flood my eyes and I answered, “No, but I’ve always wondered about it.” I then asked, “What made you think to ask?” She said, “All I have to do is to look at your desk.”

    I must say that it feels lonely in finding people to talk to about this without getting a funny blank stare. I would love to have some sort of support group for adults dealing with day to day issues that surround this “gift.” Do you know of an organization I might contact in my area? I live in Seattle. I have done some research but am not happy with the results. Only a couple geared toward parents of children with ADD/ADHD.

    Need to go for now, but I’d like to contact you in the future regarding the subject of writing. I just had some questions.

    Thanks again.


    Cynthia Sherstad on November 29th, 2012


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