Adult ADD/ADHD – Some Common Misconceptions

When we hear the term ADD/ADHD our attention almost immediately turns to children. This is simply because the problem of childhood ADD/ADHD is very relevant and visible due to the massive rise in diagnoses over the past few decades. We are also in the midst of a fierce debate on the destructive effects of ADD/ADHD medication on young minds. Childhood ADD/ADHD is, however, certainly not the full story.
Many adults have the condition and face significant struggles to get through life because of it. I often call adult ADD/ADHD ‘Invisible ADD/ADHD’ since it is certainly not a problem that is in the public eye. It is also very often undetected by those who are faced with it. This is because adults don’t live their lives in the highly controlled environment (read ‘classroom) of most kids where attention problems are bound to show themselves through behavior and interaction. When these problems surface in children there would normally be a well-defined route towards diagnosis and treatment. This is not altogether a positive thing because this route mostly ends with medication, but we should at least acknowledge that early detection of childhood ADD/ADHD is fairly common. This is obviously not the case with the adult form of the condition.
By calling adult ADD/ADHD an ‘invisible’ condition I am certainly not implying that it is not serious. Anyone who battles with adult ADD/ADHD will tell you that this is simply not the case. Undetected and unaddressed adult ADD/ADHD can wreak havoc on the personal and social lives of individuals.
Over the next few weeks I will focus the spotlight on ADD/ADHD in adults. We will begin by clearing up some misconceptions before focusing on detection methods and ways to address the condition. I trust that you will find this series of articles beneficial and I especially want to urge those adults who think they might have the condition to pay close attention.
Let’s dive straight in by looking at some of the misconceptions about adult ADD/ADHD:
Misconception #1: “I was not diagnosed as a child so I cannot have ADD/ADHD.”
The basic misunderstanding underlying this misconception is that ADD/ADHD will always be accurately diagnosed during childhood. This is obviously not the case! Many people went through childhood thinking that their inability to pay attention, their fidgeting or other symptoms were simply down to ‘the way I am’. In such cases giving a name to what they experienced can actually be quite a relief since it implies that something can be done about it. It can also be the case that symptoms that were very much in the background during childhood can ‘flare up’ later in life.
Misconception #2: “I am not hyperactive so I cannot have ADD/ADHD.”
The classical image of ADD/ADHD in the minds of many adults is of a hyperactive child ‘bouncing off the walls’. Since this image does not correspond with their own experience they think that they cannot have the condition. The fact is, however, that with adult ADD/ADHD the emphasis should be placed much more on attention deficit than on hyperactive. When the spotlight shifts to the lack of focus associated with the condition many more adults will be able to recognize themselves in what is being described.
Misconception #3: “It is not ADD/ADHD, I just lack willpower.”
Many people (especially employers) look at adults trying to cope with ADD/ADHD and come to the conclusion that the real problem is simply a lack of willpower. They point to the fact that such people can pay very close attention to things that interest them and conclude that they simply lack the basic motivation to focus on more mundane matters. According to this, erroneous, assessment all that is required is that adults with ADD/ADHD should ‘up their game’. This analysis completely misses the point. ADD/ADHD is a complex condition linked to the functioning of the human brain and cannot simply be addressed through calls to ‘pull up your socks’!
Misconception #4: “Everybody has ADD/ADHD symptoms and intelligent people are able to master them through various techniques.”
According to this way of looking at the condition full-blown adult ADD/ADHD is simply indicative of the fact that some people cannot manage to respond to certain common aspects of the human condition in intelligent ways. This is obviously a very insulting and prejudiced position to take since ADD/ADHD has absolutely nothing to do with intellectual abilities. It can, in fact, be shown that some of the greatest geniuses of our time had to deal with the condition.
Next week will continue this discussion of adult ADD/ADHD by looking at some of the most common signs and symptoms of the condition in adults.