How to Know If You Need an ADHD Evaluation
ADHD is defined as a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development1. While the disorder is usually diagnosed in childhood or adolescence, it often goes undiagnosed until later in life. In fact, the National Institute of Health estimates that 4.4% of adults in the United States live with ADHD2.
The symptoms of ADHD can place roadblocks between you and your goals, and make simple everyday tasks like cooking dinner, paying bills, and keeping up with friends feel like hurdles. If you are having trouble completing tasks at work, getting distracted in conversations, unable to keep up with daily demands, or behaving impulsively, these are signs that you might have ADHD.
The good news is, though, that there are strategies you can learn to help you manage your ADHD. But the first step in helping you to lead a more centered and focused life is confirming a diagnosis of ADHD through psychological testing.
Isn’t ADHD a disorder kids have?
When most people think about ADHD, they picture hyper and inattentive children in school. Although ADHD is typically first diagnosed in an academic setting where kids are having trouble attending to classroom tasks, it can also affect adults in a wide variety of settings. Just because you were never evaluated or treated for ADHD as an adult doesn’t mean that you didn’t have it. And although conventional understandings of ADHD require the presence of symptoms before age 12 in order to make a diagnosis, some newer studies have suggested that certain types of ADHD may have their onset in adulthood3.
Regardless of when the symptoms arise, many adults who receive a diagnosis of ADHD report feeling relief that they have an explanation for the experiences they have spent so long trying to understand.
Is adult ADHD different?
The way in which ADHD manifests itself in a person’s life can change over time. This means that your ADHD as an adult will look different than the ADHD you may have had as a child. In addition to affecting academic performance, ADHD symptoms can also play a role in job performance, parenting, friendships, and romantic relationships. As an adult, your ADHD might look like:
- Losing or misplacing things frequently – you may forget where you set down your phone, keys, important documents, etc.
- Starting tasks but being unable to finish to things – you may start to answer one email when you see another one come in, and open it. In the midst of responding to the second email someone texts you and begin to text the back. You are now communicating with three different people and are having trouble doing so
- Difficulty paying attention in meetings, while watching a movie, or reading a book – you may get to the end of a chapter and forget the plot developments, or leave a meeting at work forgetting the action items you now need to complete.
- Lacking motivation – you may really want to get that etsy shop up and running to sell your beautiful DIY designs. The idea of it really excites you, but you can’t seem to bring yourself to do it.
- Losing track of time – you know you need to spend your Saturday morning picking up the dry cleaning, buying groceries, and dropping a package off at the post-office, but you sit down to enjoy a cup of coffee first and before you know it, it’s lunchtime and the morning has gotten away from you.
- Your mind wanders – during a conversation, you are creating a grocery list in your head, reviewing the emails you still need to answer, and trying to remember who you made plans with on Friday after work, only to realize that you have entirely missed what the person you are talking to has said.
- Interrupting others – someone is telling you a story and you cannot help but interject a related story in the middle of them talking, or you find yourself blurting out comments or jokes that don’t always sit well with others.
- Restlessness – relaxing may be hard for you, and you feel that you need to get up, go for a walk, clean the kitchen, straighten up your bedroom, organize your closet…anything other than just sitting and being present!
- Impulsivity – you have difficulty sticking to the budget you have set for yourself or following through with the diet you are trying to adhere to. You might make impulse purchases or cave in on your healthy eating resolutions and consume 3 donuts from the box your coworker brought to share this morning.
- Getting bored easily – you might feel you need to change jobs every few years, or move to a different neighborhood every time your lease is up because you are craving a change of pace.
How do I know if I need an ADHD evaluation?
These are just a few examples of how ADHD symptoms might manifest outside of a classroom setting. Your particular symptoms and their effect on your life may be different, but if some of these descriptions resonate with you, an ADHD diagnosis is worth exploring. It is important to note that although most people experience some of these symptoms for time to time, ADHD is more of a long-lasting pattern of inattention and poor concentration that causes a disruption in school, work, and relationships.
If you have had some of the symptoms described above for more than 6 months, it is recommended that you seek help from a mental health professional. An assessment for ADHD with a trained psychologist can help you better understand your symptoms and what is causing them.
How will an ADHD evaluation help me?
Knowing the difference between ADHD and other disorders can better inform your treatment. Many psychological problems can manifest as an attention disorder. For instance, depression can cause a person to be disinterested in activities, lethargic, and unable to focus on pressing matters. Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) can lead a person to be overly focused on non-urgent concerns, such as cleanliness, orderliness, thoughts about potential danger, or past mistakes, in such a way that makes them unable to focus on the task in front of them. Just because a person has a problem with attention does not mean they have ADHD. Many other symptoms can masquerade as an attention disorder, and a comprehensive assessment will clarify the nature and cause of an individual’s poor concentration and lack of focus.
Not only will an assessment provide a clear diagnosis and a better understanding of your symptoms, but it can also give you the tools you need to tackle your goals. A frequent concern for individuals who suspect that they have ADHD is the belief that the only treatment is a prescription for stimulant medications like Adderall. Although this is the most common treatment for ADHD, non-stimulant medication, lifestyle changes, and therapy can also help you cope with and compensate for your symptoms. For a list of specific strategies to help you combat your ADHD, check out this post. Getting an assessment to diagnose ADHD is the first step in understanding and treating this problem.
What will the testing be like?
ADHD is diagnosed through an interview, review of records, and formal neuropsychological testing. After you doctor has ruled out any physical causes for your symptoms (food allergies, thyroid problems, etc.) your psychologist will conduct an evaluation for ADHD. This evaluation will include an interview where you will be asked about your personal history related to academic, social, emotional, and occupational functioning. Your psychologist will also review any medical or school records you provide as these can provide further evidence for both the development of ADHD or the presence of other similar disorders. Finally, the bulk of the assessment will involve neuropsychological testing.
These tests involve paper and pencil questionnaires, problem solving activities, and verbal tasks that you will do with the psychologist. There is no need to study or prepare for any of these tests, and there are no right or wrong answers – they are simply measures of your thinking style and response patterns. Following the psychologist’s analysis of your data, you will receive a report of the findings and have an opportunity to meet with your psychologist who can explain the implications of the results. For more information about what to expect from testing, click here.