How do you know you have adult attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which experts compare to having a mind like a pinball, with thoughts flitting in multiple directions. Maybe you're just overcaffeinated and overworked? And if you do have it, will there be a stigma? Should you try medication? Will it work?
About 4.4% of U.S. adults—some 10 million people—also have ADHD and less than one-quarter of them are aware of it. That's because while ADHD always starts in childhood, according to official diagnostic criteria, many adults with the disorder went unnoticed when they were young.
ADHD frequently goes hand in hand with depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, and it can be difficult to untangle which came first. "It's very common for someone to be treated for depression or anxiety for years, and have the therapist not notice the ADHD," says Mary Solanto, director of the AD/HD Center at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. But adults whose ADHD is left untreated face a high incidence of substance abuse, automobile accidents, difficulty staying employed and maintaining relationships.
That said, some adults with ADHD are highly intelligent, energetic, charismatic and creative, and are able to focus intently on a narrow range of topics that interest them. David Neeleman, the founder of JetBlue Airways, and Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko's, have spoken out about how the disorder helped them come up with innovative ideas for their corporations, despite their having done poorly in school.
Generally, ADHD can make life very difficult. It's thought to be an imbalance in neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that relay signals in the brain, particularly in the frontal cortex that governs planning and impulse control. Adults typically have trouble with paying attention, focusing and prioritizing. Managing time and money are particularly difficult.
Some people with ADHD are able to compensate for their distractibility, at least for a while. Some excel in school early on but run into problems once they get to college or get a job where they have to stay organized on their own.
As with other psychiatric conditions, there is no blood test or brain scan that can diagnose ADHD. Experts say people who suspect they have it should have a thorough evaluation, ideally with a neuro-psychologist or psychiatrist who specializes in the disorder; assessing ADHD/ADD with neuro-psychological testing and looking at how they functioned in early childhood, in school along with social settings and personal relationships.
Following assessment, a treatment program should be created using the specific therapies and treatments that will provide the most benefit. Once ADHD/ADD is diagnosed, most experts recommend treatment with both medication and behavioral therapy or personal coaching.
Source: The Wall Street Journal, April 6, 2010
Here is what an executive coaching client had to say after being evaluated for ADHD/ADD:
"John, I met with the neuro-psychologist tonight and she confirmed your diagnosis of A.D.D. for me. Good thing you stuck to your guns and kept me on about this. This may be the most significant breakthrough yet. She referred to me as a 'sleeper A.D.D. person.' I have gotten really really good at using my intelligence to cover the disorder. However, I do see the cost of this now in the incredible effort I have put forth to get to this point in my life. In many respects, I see that the disorder has driven many significant decisions and choices in every area of my life. I have settled for less many times because of this perceived weakness. She tells me my case is very treatable and I have good things to look forward to once we get started on the fix."
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