How can I get evaluated for ADHD as an adult? Is that even important?
I get this question a lot so I thought it might be helpful to make a post about it. First of all, yes, you can be evaluated for ADHD as an adult. I think this type of evaluation can actually be life-changing for many reasons. ADHD arises in childhood and for most people the symptoms of ADHD do not fully resolve by the age of 18, or 20, or ever. Research tells us that about 75% of people who had ADHD in childhood continue to have problematic symptoms in adulthood. Some of those people have figured out work-around, but many continue to be frustrated and a bit hamstrung by the disorder. And in my experience a fair number of people who had ADHD in childhood were never identified as kids.
What about testing? In childhood testing is required by schools in order to qualify the child under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). This is what allows kids with ADHD to have extra time on tests or quiet areas to do their work while at school. Since most adults are not wanting to use protections under the ADA, using neuropsychological testing is not necessary. Which is a good thing because a neuropsychological evaluation takes about 10 hours and costs about $4,000! All that is required to make the diagnosis of ADHD for adults is a competent clinician and about a 2 hour interview. The clinician may have you fill out some symptom checklists to help understand the level of problems you are having, but even these are not necessary. The diagnosis is made based on your history and current functioning.
So what is ADHD? The short version is that it is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is highly genetic. So chances are you can thank your parents, or your grandparents for the gene. Some of the key symptoms that are familiar to most people are problems paying consistent attention and being hyperactive. However there are other symptoms like hyper-focus and poor interpersonal boundaries that are less known. ADHD is caused by an under-activation of the frontal lobe in the brain, which is an area responsible for attention, concentration, organization, planning, future thinking, impulse control, delaying gratification and a bunch of other important functions. This part of the brain is literally under-powered in ADHD. Most medications used to treat ADHD boost activation in that frontal cortex to help the ADHD brain “normalize”. Other treatments like mindfulness meditation do the same thing through different mechanisms.
Diagnosing ADHD in adulthood can be a bit tricky if you aren’t used to seeing it in adults. Many adults have learned how to compensate, say, for example, by setting lots of alarms and reminders on their electronic devices or hiring personal assistants to keep them organized and on time. Many adults with ADHD eventually find their way into jobs where they are not required to do a lot of detailed work and they get to be more involved in the big picture, or creative problem solving, or other things that the ADHD brain tends to do well. However, if a clinician is familiar with both ADHD in children and how it presents in adults, a thorough interview can make the diagnosis.
Once you know that you have ADHD you can learn more about it through organizations like CHADD- Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder. There is a lot of research out there about what treatments work for ADHD and which ones don’t. Knowing your diagnosis is the first step to getting the appropriate help so that you can function better. I have also found that knowing the diagnosis helps people to feel better about themselves. Realizing that you have an actual neurological disorder puts a whole different feeling to losing your car keys for the 5th time this week. You may go from feeling like an idiot to realizing that your brain is wired differently from most people. So I think for a person’s self-esteem it is also really helpful to get the disorder diagnosed, even if it’s not until adulthood.
If you think you might have ADHD feel free to contact our office for a consultation. Evaluations can usually be scheduled within a week.