Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder
Until recently, it was believed that ADD symptoms largely disappeared
in adolescence. It is now known that many symptoms continue into
adulthood for up to 70% of individuals with ADD. Adults with ADD
experience problems at work and in relationships. They may also
exhibit other emotional difficulties. Medications such as psychostimulants
can be an effective intervention with adults with ADD.
- Attention Deficit Disorder has only recently been recognized
as an adult disability. Previously, it was believed that there
is a resolution of ADD symptoms in adolescence due to brain development,
hormonal change, or other developmental change.
- Follow-up studies documented that children with ADD continue
to exhibit symptoms of the disability in adolescence and adulthood.
30-70% of children with ADD continue to have symptoms in adulthood.
It has been conservatively estimated that 2-5 million adults are
affected by ADD.
- It is now recognized that adults with ADD have similar symptoms
as do children with ADD.
- Many adults with ADD were never diagnosed as children. Thus,
they are not aware of, nor do they understand the consequences
of, their disability. Indeed, since ADD was not recognized in
adults until recently, many of these adults may have been previously
treated for depression, antisocial personality, or character disorders.
- Diagnosing ADD in the adult requires an examination of childhood,
academic and behavioral history. Symptoms are sometimes more readily
recognized by a spouse than the individual with ADD. Psychoeducational
and vocational testing, as well as a thorough evaluation of family
relationships and interpersonal skills, can provide insight into
a suitable intervention program.
- ADD in adults is often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. This can
lead to low self-esteem, increased frustration and educational
or vocational failure. Years of struggling with the untreated
disability places these adults at risk for other problems, such
as drug abuse and depression.
- Most adults with ADD are restless, easily distracted, have
difficulty sustaining attention and concentrating, are impulsive
and impatient, have frequent mood swings and short tempers, are
disorganized and fail to plan ahead.
- Adults with ADD often experience career difficulties. They
may lose jobs due to poor job performance, attention and organizational
problems, or relationship difficulties. Other times, they may
simply quit out of boredom.
- On the other hand, adults who learn to adapt to their disability
and to harness the energy and creativity that often accompanies
ADD can thrive professionally. Many adults with ADD are successful
- Education is the first strategy for intervention. Most adults
with ADD have little understanding of the disability. Once they
have been accurately diagnosed, they are often relieved to learn
their difficulties are due to a disability, as opposed to some
- Adults can benefit from learning to structure their environment.
This may involve using an appointment book, a personal computer,
or tape recorder. Other strategies include making a daily list
of tasks, posting schedules and appointments throughout the home
or office, learning time management skills, and setting up a self-reward
- Psychostimulant medications can be effective with adults who
have ADD. Other medications, such as antidepressants can be helpful
for treating substance abuse and depression, or when phobic, panic,
anxiety and/or obsessive compulsive disorders are present.
- A primary goal of therapy with an adult who has ADD is to
build on success. Vocational counseling designed to identify employment
well suited to the individual's strengths and skills can help
to ensure success.
- Other intervention strategies include:
- scheduling regular physical exercise
- maintaining a sense of humor
- eliminating negative self statements
- avoiding, reducing or eliminating alcohol or drug use
- enlisting a friend, relative or spouse to help finish tasks
and remember commitments, and to provide feedback
- Short-term psychotherapy can help the patient identify how
his or her disability might be associated with a history of sub-par
performance and difficulties in personal relationships.
- Long-term psychotherapy can help address mood swings, stabilize
relationships, and alleviate guilt and discouragement.
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Modified December 23, 2002