A Little Bit About Adult ADHD

Typically, when someone thinks about ADHD, one of two things comes to mind:  hyperactive children, or a forgetful adult.  Both mental images tend to miss the complexities of ADHD, particularly when dealing with it as an adult.

Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder is a poly-genetic disorder (meaning it’s controlled by more than one gene), and if a parent had it, there’s a 79% chance their children will have ADHD also.  It’s thought that as many as 4.1% of adults in the United States have ADHD to some degree, and 1.7% of adults in the US fall in the category of severe.

For me personally, that hereditary part provided for an interesting moment in life.  My father called me, explaining that my little sister, at the time 11, had been diagnosed as having ADHD.  I understood the implications for my father dealing with my little sister fairly well, because I had studied ADHD.  Then, my father tells me that the doctor interviewed him, and also diagnosed him with ADHD.  He goes on to say, “The doctor explained that it’s genetic.”  “Oh.  Oh, wow, that makes so much sense.”  And then we began talking about something else entirely.

While I had studied ADHD to help a teenager, I had never bothered to look at it in respect to my own life.  Finally, it was a moment of understanding many things about myself.

I’m not really a forgetful person – more along the lines of being very often distracted.  If someone says “I’m so forgetful, my ADHD is acting up,” they most likely don’t have ADHD.  Here’s a great list of 23 things that would be indicators that you don’t have ADHD – and anyone who has it will be greatly amused at the list. Being at least somewhat forgetful is a typical human condition, and varies with quite a few factors including simple factors such as stress levels.

The major, defining attribute of ADHD a disruption of the normal flow of attention. Typically, it’s a lack of focus on the task at hand.  The world is a noisy place, and the human brain has many mechanisms in place to help filter out that noise.  For ADHD sufferers, those filters are at least partially broken.  Then, to make matters worse, ADHD suffers are impulsive, so their own mind often creates noise that fails to be filtered out.  If you’re friends with someone with ADHD, expect to be interrupted during conversations, and often to never finish telling a story.

For some ADHD sufferers, it can also involve hyperfocus.  Hyperfocus is the inability to quit focusing on something.  To give you an idea what hyperfocus can be like, and this is nowhere near it’s extreme levels, happened when I very foolishly gave up caffeine and nicotine at the same time.  I started cleaning the kitchen wall while talking with my now ex-wife.  She finally asked me what I was doing after about 30 minutes of me scouring the wall, and I had to explain that I couldn’t stop.

There are a number of ways of dealing with ADHD, and there’s not a one-size fits all treatment.  Mine is controlled with exercise, careful caffeine dosing, and diet.  For some, it requires medications like Adderall, Dexedrine, or other medications.  Each case is different, and time has to be spent with a healthcare provider to find what’s optimal for each case.  Of course, the course of treatment may change with age.

Prevalence of ADHD in the United States
Prevalence of ADHD in the United States (Courtesy of The Center for Disease Control

I’m not alone at Advanced Mobile Healthcare in dealing with ADHD.  Rae Lyn Mefford, owner of AMH, also has ADHD.  Each person’s approach to deal with this condition is different.  She explains, “I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD as a child, so my childhood experience was mainly being an outcast and a little bit weird. Actually, it’s only been over the past several years that I’ve come to fully understand its effect on me, and come to peace with it.”  Rae Lyn admitted, “I was embarrassed by my ADHD as a child, but over the years I have learned to embrace it.  It’s a part of me, and it makes me unique.”

But, it’s not always medication that makes it “work” for me and others with ADHD.  Each person ends up having to find the tools and tactics that work for them.  I try and minimize the amount of stuff that’s in my line of sight when working.  I keep multiple lists of projects going on, including my “master list” of projects and finances that exist on my wall.  I try to make sure I exercise daily, and I start every morning off with two or three cups of coffee (despite a dislike of coffee).  I keep multiple projects going at a time.  I find ways to make the process of work an adventure.  Each one of these tactics help me run a business and keep my life on track.  And, I know I’m not alone in attempting to find the optimal way of living and working with it.  “I’m still learning – it’s a process,” Rae Lyn told me.

What are the actual disadvantages with ADHD?  It’s a fairly long list:

  • Easily Distracted
  • Can’t Stay on Task
  • Difficulty maintaining organization
  • Highly talkative
  • Interrupts others
  • Impulsive
  • Poor attention to detail
  • Problems sitting still
  • Impatient
  • Often makes inappropriate comments
  • Has problems maintaining friendships or relationships
  • Drift off during conversations
  • Have problems noticing social cues

That is a short version of the list, and it centered around adults having ADHD.  Children with ADHD have an even harder time – as ADHD sufferers age, they begin to “smooth out around the edges” a bit.  A good example of this is talking to Rae Lyn on the phone about ADHD:  I asked her a few specific questions, and she began answering – I’ve learned enough control (on a normal day) to avoid blurting out more questions, interjecting my own stories, or allowing the conversation to move towards a different topic.  Two people with ADHD having a conversation on an off day is a special experience in chaos.

But, it’s not all downsides.  ADHD may have a long list of negative effects, but it’s also got a long list of benefits – I’ve heard of them referred to as our “super-powers”.  While not extensive, here’s a quick highlight of the potential upsides:

Multitasking:  Normal people have a hard time effectively handling multiple tasks at once.  The ADHD mind, on the other hand, almost seems to work best when it’s chewing on multiple tasks.  Currently, I’m writing an article on ADHD, West Nile, and Heat Exhaustion.  I just flip between them as the impulse strikes, or when I get bored with the current one in front of me.

Hyperfocus:  While it can be a disadvantage, it can also be an advantage – the ability to work on something, no matter how many other things are going on around you.

Creativity:  “I’m very creative, and I can easily think outside of the box when dealing with a problem,” says Rae Lyn.

Willingness To Take Risk:  Often, ADHD suffers don’t see the world with the same risk-reward setup that most people do.  Part of this may be tied the differences in how our brains deal with Dopamine, which is tied into that risk-reward setup.

Spontaneity:  Sure, when it’s bad, it’s called impulsiveness.

Conversationalist:  Adults with ADHD still love to talk.  But, over time, they’ve learned the skills to be good at it.

Persistence:  ADHD suffers often have to deal with being easily distracted.  But, similar to hyperfocus, when someone with ADHD decides they really want to learn or do something, there’s almost nothing that will stand between them and accomplishing the goal.

Resilience:   For minds with ADHD, there’s always another adventure, another distraction, or another goal to conquer to take our minds off of the bad things that have happened.

 As you can see, ADHD is not a handicap and can actually be a gift.  Many famous people such as Albert Einstein, J.F.K., Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford (to name a few) have used this gift to change the world.

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