If you’re thinking that you might have ADHD, it’s likely that, at some point, you had an “aha!” moment—a realization you arrived at when finally, your life-long struggles with inconsistent attention and related issues made a little more sense. You might have encountered a situation that triggered you to consider the possibility that all along you’ve been dealing with ADHD. Maybe you came across someone with the disorder and that person’s actions and thought patterns reminded you of yourself! Your light-bulb moment may have led you to wonder whether the reason you’ve struggled to navigate so many environments, self-esteem, and life situations is because of the effects of this disorder.
There’s a lot of information on social media and online about ADHD, so it’s likely that you’ve seen symptom descriptions or examples of how adults with the disorder think and act. It’s possible that you’ve always asked yourself, “I wonder if that could be me?” “Am I neurodivergent”*(Please see the footnote for what neurodivergent means)?
The point of understanding adult ADHD isn’t so you can assign a label to yourself, and it’s certainly not meant to be an outlet for excuse-making. The reason it’s critical to know the disorder is and could be affecting you, so you can understand and find some answers to your struggles, extend self-compassion and forgiveness for being so critical of yourself for a long time, and devote your energy towards learning how to navigate environments and life situations that aren’t designed for adults with ADHD. These settings and circumstances are all around you—your workplace, home environment, educational settings, and interpersonal relationships. Mainstream society is built for the neurotypical person—the average mind (whatever the “average” means these days though…). This is why people with ADHD struggle; because the way you think and process information is different… or I rather say unique. It is not less in any way—only different from the norm. Your unique ADHD brain provides you with a multitude of strengths, talents, and abilities that sadly get overlooked or ignored as you try to survive in a world that is predominantly made up of people who don’t have ADHD.
We’re going to go over the 6 primary, telltale signs that indicate you might have ADHD.
Maybe you’ve been struggling since grade school with academic difficulties or were told that you can’t concentrate in course work like other students but, like many kids, no one ever pinpointed exactly what was going on with you. Or maybe, you were that chatty kid who loved to talk and spoke out of turn. Maybe you struggled to organize and stay organized with your daily tasks. Or you may have learned how to pretend to listen so you don’t get in trouble, but you often found yourself not listening in conversations with others when the topics weren’t interesting to you. Maybe you find yourself being constantly anxious or struggling with low self-esteem because of a long time, you just felt so different and could not fit in because your social and learning styles did not fit into what was expected of you.
This may have caused you to suffer many social and emotional consequences, not to mention work-related and personal struggles, too, as you grew older. These 6 signs may serve to guide you in the right direction, towards treatment and effective coping strategies, so that you no longer have to struggle with the effects of ADHD.
1) Inconsistency of Attention.
Attention, or inconsistency of, is the classic ADHD symptom. Many often simplify this attention as “deficit” or “lack of attention”. However, if you are struggling with ADHD, you know if something interests you very much, you will have this “super attention” that can keep you up at night so you can consume that interest. Your brain struggles a lot when it’s something you just don’t have interest in.. more than a typical brain would struggle.
And inconsistency in attention manifests in a variety of ways and it goes hand in hand with other symptoms like difficulty forgetfulness (due to inconsistency of attention) or distractibility.
When you struggle with inattention and forgetfulness may show itself as a need to have verbal directions repeated to you (sometimes several times) or having difficulty staying focused on tasks that are new to you or are more difficult (and therefore, more mentally taxing). For many adults, inattention comes through during conversations with others where you might get distracted and not “hear” what the person just told you.
In some instances, your attention might be very good; so good that you might get very absorbed, or hyper-focused, on certain tasks and completely lose track of time or of the fact that you have 10 other things to do. This circumstance is often also related to the next sign we’re going to discuss, and that is: Time management.
2) Time management.
Adults with ADHD often have difficulty getting to places on time or adhering to deadlines, and this is not because you don’t respect or value your job, your responsibilities, or other people’s time. An ADHD adult’s time management struggle often has to do with difficulty making an accurate estimate of how long it will take you to complete a series of other tasks that need to get done before doing the final task. That final task is often where the time constraint lies or it represents the finish line. An ADHD brain often has an unrealistic or “too optimistic” view of the amount of time you may have to complete projects, get to your appointments, etc. Thus, it interferes with your ability to get that final task completed, meet the deadline, or cross the finish line in time or get to that meeting on time.
Consider this typical scenario: Waking up, bathing/grooming/dressing, breakfast, getting out the door, and taking traffic delays into consideration so that you can make it to a 9am appointment. If you miscalculate (or you felt like you had a lot more time than there was) how long it will realistically take you to complete the first three steps so you can get out the door, for instance, then tardiness is almost guaranteed. The same time management struggle applies to having a list of things to get done by the end of your work day, but instead, becoming hyper-focused on task number 5 and finding that you either have to rush through the remainder of your list, or settle for not getting it done at all.
3) Getting and staying organized.
It’s rather common for ADHD adults to have a disorganized work and/or living space that is cluttered and in total disarray. Papers or important documents might be impossible to find when you need them. You might invest a lot of time and energy into organizing your things, but you have difficulty keeping it this way for long and it will soon all go back to the disorder you had before. Your car, bedroom closet, kitchen pantry, and/or drawers and file cabinets may look this way.
When you have difficulty remaining organized, you might also tend to lose your belongings more easily. This not only has to do with your overall struggle with organization, but also your attention and focus, too. You might put something on a shelf in the other room, but later not remember that you placed it there.
4) Actually Multitasking and completing them
When attention, time management, and organization are areas of difficulty, focusing on and completing more than one task at a time is often impossible. Adults with ADHD often like to start on various tasks and projects –mostly due to distractibility or chasing that dopamine* to feel energized and not get bored on a task. But end up struggling with cognitive multitasking, which involves switching from one topic or activity to another quickly and repeatedly within a designated period of time. One of the related, ADHD adults experience difficulty completing one task from start to finish due to getting distracted and losing attention and focus. This means that trying to tackle two or more tasks at a time would be mentally overwhelming for a person with ADHD since one of the tasks would essentially serve as a mental “distraction” from the other task—and vice versa. Multitasking, therefore, is kind of like inviting distraction. If you find that you make a lot of errors or you forget important things when trying to get something done, this could be due to the cognitive overload or overwhelm that is common among people with ADHD.
Nevertheless, an ADHD adult still may start many tasks, projects, hobbies as their interest sparks…. The ADHD brain has a hard time tolerating boredom. But even when they get started, it may be difficult to maintain or complete them. In other words, one of the telltale signs of adult ADHD is that you may have had a lot of abandoned hobbies… you once thought you would do and have fun with for a long time.
A very frequent complaint among adults with ADHD is related to memory—short-term memory, that is. This ADHD indicator manifests in a variety of ways. For instance, having tip-of-the-tongue experiences all the time (also known as word finding difficulties), where you know what you want to say, but you can’t seem to recall the exact word to relay your message, might happen to you quite often in conversations with others. Maybe identifying the name of the movie you saw yesterday might be challenging, too.
Short-term memory issues don’t necessarily have to be related to recalling words, like names and titles. You might forget doing certain actions, too, such as remembering whether or not you took your vitamins for the day or if you fed your dog already. These types of memory issues are usually associated not with an actual memory problem, but more so with your inattention. If you’re not concentrating on what you’re doing—and if you’re not focused while you’re doing it—it’s more likely that you’ll forget or you’ll get confused when you try to recall whether you did it or not. When it comes to word finding, being forgetful in this area could have to do with becoming distracted in conversations or having trouble putting thoughts together in an organized and linear way. So, word finding often boils down to the other ADHD issues we discussed: attention, organization skills, and multitasking.
One of the symptoms of ADHD Adults struggle with impulse control in many areas. For instance, if you find that you tend to make abrupt decisions without considering potential consequences first or blurt out something verbally without thinking about it, this is often due to difficulty with impulse control. If you have trouble waiting, whether it’s in line, at a traffic light, or when you’re put on hold during a phone call, impulsivity is often the culprit.
Many ADHD adults describe a sensation of desperation, anxiety, or frustration, if they find themselves in situations where they have to wait or delay. In order to alleviate this discomfort, you might make a quick decision that may not always be the most ideal or beneficial choice for you.
Impulsivity can also related to temper and anger control among adults with ADHD, often because the ability to think before you act (or speak)—which often prevents an anger response—requires a certain level of control over your reactions and impulses– which can be more challenging for ADHD brains especially when you are a child. Many adults with ADHD find that their “frustration” and “anger issues” often disappear when they learn to control impulsivity and learn to slow down in their lives. This indicates that it’s often not a problem with temper or anger at all, but instead with being able to manage impulses by slowing down, taking a breath, and thinking.
Learning the ins and outs of these ADHD signs and symptoms can be a very liberating experience that can bring you peace of mind, comfort, and a renewed sense of confidence in yourself. For a long time, you’ve likely believed that there was something wrong with you. Maybe you’ve lived with a lot of frustration and confusion, wondering why other people seem to have it all together while you struggle to accomplish even the most basic, everyday tasks. Arming yourself with the right information about adult ADHD can help you in the important process of understanding how to work with the disorder—how to implement strategies to bring out your many personal strengths. It’s likely that you’ve been very weakness-oriented for much of your life; focusing on all the things you can’t do and the many ways that these ADHD signs stop you or hinder your success in life. The reality is that adults with ADHD think and behave differently from what society considers normal and typical. This is largely why you struggle and why you might feel like you don’t fit in so many settings and life circumstances. Your strengths and abilities simply lie in different and unique areas and you require some learning and training to understand how to navigate those settings and situations designed for the typical individual. Your greatest realization will occur when you gain the coping strategies to manage ADHD and when you apply them so that you can succeed in any setting, any situation, and any challenge that comes your way.
Neurodivergent refers to an individual who has a different cognitive variation such as ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, OCD, etc. Neurotypical refers to individuals of typical cognitive development and functioning.
Neurotypical is used to describe individuals with typical developmental and cognitive abilities.