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Diagnosis and Support for adults with ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that begins in early childhood and affects about 1 in 20 people. Adults with ADHD often find it harder to concentrate at work, navigate relationships, and cope with everyday tasks. When left untreated, ADHD can lead to challenges at home, school, work, or with friends. But when properly supported, people with ADHD can also learn to translate their differences into real strengths.

What is ADHD in adults?

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects attention, impulse control, and motivation. It's a specific set of behaviours, symptoms, and difficulties that begin in early childhood and continue into adulthood. There are three types of ADHD and each type is related to different behaviours, feelings, and symptoms. These include:

  1. Inattentive type: having difficulty with managing attention, staying focused and organised, or keeping track of important details or items.

  2. Hyperactive-impulsive type: having difficulty with managing energy, constantly feeling restless and needing to move or be productive.

  3. Combined type: having a combination of both inattention and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms. 

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Although ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental conditions in childhood, many people with ADHD don’t get a diagnosis until much later in life. As adults, people with ADHD will often have developed ‘masking’ strategies that are designed to hide away their ADHD as a way to fit in socially, get work done, or feel accepted by others.  

But significant changes and life events can sometimes push these masking strategies to the limit and bring internal struggles to the surface.  When left untreated, ADHD can make us feel overwhelmed, lost, frustrated, and guilty - especially if we've internalised some of the messages growing up. 

Signs and Symptoms of Inattentive type ADHD in adults

Adults with inattentive ADHD are often misunderstood as being disorganised, lazy, or inattentive. But rather than lacking the ability or motivation to focus, it’s more effortful to focus when things aren’t interesting and the demand to focus may become overwhelming when resources are low. Even when there is lots of motivation to get some work done, the ADHD brain can stop it right in its tracks which can cause a cycle of frustration and guilt. 

 

Adults with inattentive type ADHD can experience symptoms like:

 

  • Missing and forgetting key information, appointments, or tasks like daily chores.

  • Frequently losing important things like keys, phones, or wallets. Needing to triple check you have your phone on you to compensate.

  • Having trouble staying focused on a single task and completing it. Working on multiple projects at once and not finishing one. 

  • Making mistakes or spending a lot of energy reviewing work for mistakes to compensate.

  • Appear to be not listening or missing information when people talk.

  • Being forgetful when in the middle of something (like making a coffee and forgetting about it).

  • Difficulties managing time and compensating by going to appointments super early.

  • Skipping this list of examples and reading ahead because it looked too long.

Signs and Symptoms of Hyperactive-impulsive type ADHD in adults

Hyperactive-impulsive type ADHD can be harder to spot as some adults with ADHD will have developed masking strategies to manage this and fit in. Rather than running around and being hyperactive (although they can at times), adults with hyperactive-impulsive type ADHD tend to have an inner sense of restlessness that can involve symptoms and masking behaviours like:

  • Fidgeting in your seat or feeling a strong urge to get up when seated.

  • Feeling agitated and a strong urge to be constantly on the go.

  • Feeling like they are constantly driven to do something productive and struggling to relax.

  • Talking excessively and jumping ahead in conversations.

  • Interrupting others and speaking without waiting for a turn.

  • Becoming overwhelmed and feeling stuck after bouts of high activity.

  • Struggling to unwind, rest, and recover even when on a holiday.

It’s also important to remember that ADHD presents differently for everyone as we tend to develop different ways to cope or mask these behaviours. Although someone might present as super calm and collected on the outside, they may be trying super hard and struggling with restlessness on the inside. 

Getting an ADHD Diagnosis as an Adult

In order to be diagnosed with ADHD, there needs to be an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity that gets in the way of day-to-day functioning. The symptoms need to also be present before the age of 12 so a thorough evaluation and history is needed. This will generally involve a number of assessments or interviews, including asking people who know you well to fill in a survey and also reviews of school reports. 

Diagnosing ADHD is complex as there can be multiple causes, environmental factors, and other potential diagnoses at play. Adults with ADHD have often learnt ‘masking’ behaviours to manage their ADHD in front of others which can cause a delay in diagnosis and prolong the struggle. They may come across as calm and collected on the surface but struggling with concentration and restlessness deep down. It’s important to reach out to your GP, Psychiatrist, or Psychologist to complete a thorough evaluation if you suspect you have ADHD.

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How can a Psychologist help with ADHD?

Whilst there is no "cure" for ADHD, treatment with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and skills building have been found to be an effective way to think about and navigate ADHD in a new way.

People with ADHD are often told messages like ‘you’re just lazy’, ‘you’re not reaching your potential’ or ‘why can’t you just get it done’. Our psychologist, Austin Chu (who has lived experience with ADHD) can tell you first hand that these messages can become internalised and trigger cycles of negative automatic thoughts, frustration, and guilt.

 

Working with a Psychologist like Austin can help you take the power and impact out of these thoughts, find strategies to make the most out of the ADHD brain, and create new insights and strengths.

Clients who work with a psychologist will often find new ways to think about their ADHD brain and find strategies to turn ADHD into a real strength. For example, did you know that the ADHD brain can help people be super creative, attentive, perceptive, or adventurous?

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Ready to get started?

At its core, people with ADHD have brains that are wired differently. It’s not that you can’t focus or sit still, you're not lazy or unproductive – it’s that you're passionate about certain things and that you look at the world in a different way. Our Psychologists with lived experience with ADHD can help support you and find ways to create the right environment and strategies to help you thrive.

For more information or to book an appointment with one of our experienced Psychologists, call the team at Reimagine Psychology Melbourne on (03) 8330 5588 or email us on hello@reimaginepsychology.melbourne.

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