Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or as most people refer to it, ADHD, is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in children. Most children diagnosed with ADHD are usually diagnosed at an early age when it becomes evident that their behavior is noticeably different from other children in their age group. But did you know that it is fairly common in adults as well? In fact, it’s estimated that adult ADHD affects more than 8 million adults in the United States. And while some of these adults were in fact diagnosed as children, most of them received their diagnoses much later in life. So that leaves the question, does ADHD look different in adults than it does in children? And if so, how does ADHD therapy for adults differ from that of children? If these are questions that you have asked yourself as a parent of a child with ADHD or as a parent with ADHD, you’ve come to the right place!
What is ADHD?
You’ve most likely heard of ADHD, but for the sake of this article let’s take a step back and define what this diagnosis means exactly. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines ADHD as a disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.
ADHD in Kids
Most of the time, ADHD is diagnosed between middle and high school when focus and performance become an issue for the child. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, boys are three times more likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis, but it is still common in young girls.
Signs of ADHD in kids may include:
- Restlessness or inability to sit still
- Inability to wait their turn for things
- Unable to play with peers or work on school quietly
- Constant running or fidgeting
- Excessive talking or shouting
It should be noted that certain ADHD symptoms are sometimes mistaken for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) symptoms and vice versa. For example, difficulty paying attention and inability to sit still or pick up on specific social cues are similar behaviors seen in children diagnosed with ADHD and ASD. So while there are overlapping symptoms, the actual diagnoses are very different, which is why it’s essential for parents to know how they differ and what symptoms are condition-specific (if you want to learn more about the similarities and differences, be sure to check out this blog that focus on the differences between ASD and ADHD).
Adults who live with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are often surprised to find out that they have it at all, because symptoms may look a little different than what we’re “used” to seeing in children. For example, many adults who don’t experience hyperactivity might dismiss other symptoms as something else, simply because they don’t know that an ADHD diagnosis does not necessarily require hyperactivity. Because of this, ADHD is often undiagnosed in adults.
For years, scientists and researchers believed that children would “grow out” of an ADHD diagnosis, but as we learn more about the disorder, we are seeing that that is not the case. Nearly 60% of people with ADHD as children still have it as adults. However, the signs or symptoms are likely to change as you grow older. Here are some of the most common signs of adult ADHD:
- Fidgeting or inability to sit still
- Low patience
- Low tolerance for frustration
- Poor time management
- Poor planning
- Inability to focus on one task at a time
- Excessive talking or interrupting others
- Mood swings or trouble coping with stress
- Issues with following through and completing tasks
And while some of these symptoms may seem like they can apply to everyone, they may not impact our lives in the same ways. For example, one person without ADHD might experience some of these symptoms but it doesn’t affect every other aspect of their lives. Whereas adults with ADHD (diagnosed or undiagnosed) may notice that these symptoms have a significant impact on their day-to-day lives, including their work, school, and even relationships.
ADHD Therapy For Adults & Children
When it comes to therapy or treatment options for adults and children with ADHD, there are a number of options that an individual can take. Once a person receives their diagnosis, it is up to the doctor to come up with a plan that works for them. While medication is one of the most common ways to manage ADHD symptoms, it may not be for everyone. In situations like these, a doctor may recommend therapy in addition to or instead of medication.
ADHD therapy for adults and children may include traditional and non-traditional options such as:
- Medication (stimulant and non-stimulant options)
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
- Occupational Therapy
- Supplements that support cognitive health (omega-3s, magnesium, etc.)
- ADHD “coaching”
- Healthier eating
Therapy options are meant for both children and adults since it can help you learn coping skills and management strategies that will help you manage symptoms of the disorder. It can also teach you how to understand and deal with the impact of ADHD on your life or your child’s life.
ADHD is a real condition and is not something you can just grow out of. Whether you have ADHD, your child has it (or maybe even both), it’s important to know that there are ways to manage the symptoms so that you and/or your child can live a full and happy life.