5 Clues That You Might Have ADHD

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?”  Do you picture someone who is flustered and frantically looking for her car keys?  Maybe you see a little boy climbing on his teacher’s desk and screaming like Tarzan as he launches himself on to the floor.  Although such behaviors are characteristic of some children and adults with ADHD, the disorder is not necessarily one or the other behavior.  In fact, ADHD is comprised of a cluster of symptoms that vary from person to person and create significant problems in school, on the job or in relationships.  Here are 5 clues that you or someone you know might have ADHD:

1. Maintaining focus is a chore.  Everyone has trouble focusing on tasks, conversations and other things from time to time.  However, if you feel like it takes a lot of effort – like way too much effort – to stay focused on things then ADHD is a possibility.  Think of a car that needs a wheel alignment.  Every time the person drives his car down the road it veers to the right, which means he has to continuously overcorrect and steer to the left to keep the car heading straight.  It’s a big pain in the a _ _!  Similarly, people with ADHD “veer off the mental path” on a regular basis and once they catch themselves doing this (or someone like a parent or teacher points out that they’re not paying attention) they must grab hold of the “attentional wheel” and direct their brain back down the correct path (which isn’t too easy since they don’t have power steering!).

* Self-reflection questions: Does your concentration wax and wane?  Do you have difficulty remaining focused on things – whether it’s tasks, conversations, or movies?

2. Lack of interest = lack of attention.  It’s a myth that people with ADHD cannot stay focused on tasks.  In fact, if they are engaged in an activity that is of great interest to them then they might become hyperfocused and be clueless of what’s going on around them.  Think of a kid who is engrossed in a video game or an adult who spends hours surfing the Internet for nuggets of gold information in hopes of making her an entrepreneurial success.  These things open the brain’s “dopamine floodgates” that spur interest, attention and positive feelings.  This isn’t unique to people with ADHD, however.  Many people have the capability of focusing their attention on certain activities for long periods of time.  For people with ADHD it is how they handle nonstimulating activities that poses the problem in the majority of cases.  When they are required to do something that they consider to be boring or monotonous then the floodgates don’t only close a little – they may completely close, which means they won’t be able to stick with the activity for very long.  It’s not uncommon for the attention spans of people with ADHD to fluctuate a lot in frequency and magnitude. In fact, high inconsistency in attention and responsiveness to stimuli are hallmark signs of ADHD.

* Self-reflection questions:  Do you struggle maintaining consistent interest in activities – especially activities that aren’t appealing – and find it difficult to stay motivated to complete them?  Or do you have the opposite problem – do you become “hyperfocused” on certain activities and have trouble shifting gears to do something else?

3. Organization & prioritization challenges. Research over the past 10 years has demonstrated that ADHD is a disorder of executive functions, which refers to the part of the brain that enables people to engage in complex actions such as problem-solving, decision-making, and attending and organizing, to name a few.  Many people go throughout the day thinking about what they need to do – including what needs to be done first or is of high priority – and can make adjustments in their “mental schedules” when things come up that call for changes in plans.  For people with ADHD, however, this isn’t such an automatic process.  First of all, deciding what is most important may be influenced by what is most interesting or appealing as discussed previously.  Also, shifting from what they are doing currently, which may hold greater appeal, to something that needs to be done and is of greater importance can also trip them up.  Kids experience this when they’re in the midst of playing a video game and their parent tells them it’s time for bed.  Most kids can make the shift when there’s a sufficient prompt from the parent to cease and desist or else.  However, for people with ADHD the message may not sink in to begin if they were not attending to its source and if it did sink in the priority continues to be that which holds the greatest appeal.  Finally, identifying relevant pieces of information and putting them in some semblance of order for decision-making purposes can be a time consuming, if not frustrating, experience.  All pieces of information may seem equally relevant and if they do not have a clear picture of the end-goal of decision-making then it’s quite difficult to arrange information in ways that make sense and result in a sensible end-goal-action (something they might not have even thought about).  Lack of efficiency is a by-product of organization and prioritization problems.

* Self-reflection questions: How would you describe your organizational skills?  Does the thought of prioritizing your activities send you screaming out of your house or, alternatively, put you in a daze

4. Restlessness & impulsivity.  Have you ever watched kids play on a playground?  Whether it’s sliding down a slide, swinging on swings, climbing a jungle gym or playing games movement is continuous.  Kids are naturally energetic, but some kids are hyperactive and can’t seem to settle down enough to meet the expectations of parents and teachers.  It isn’t uncommon for these kids to “act first, think later” as self-regulation lags behind other executive functions.  Having said this, all children must develop the capacity for self-control, which is not only a maturational process but a by-product of experiences (in particular, reinforcing or punishing experiences) with parents, teachers and others who serve as external behavioral controls.  A truly biologically-based disorder such as ADHD does not allow people to turn down their “activity & impulsivity dials;” therefore, there is only so much to be accomplished through behavioral and environmental manipulations.

As adults, hyperactivity may morph into feelings of internal restlessness while impulsivity continues to prompt them to react quickly – and sometimes carelessly – to ideas or situations, which may result in unintended and unfortunate consequences.

* Self-reflection questions: Is it hard for you to settle down enough to get things done?  Do you miss out on things?  How many times have you “put your foot in your mouth” or gotten yourself into trouble because you didn’t think before you acted or made decisions?

5. “Are you listening to me?”  Although not a commonly identified symptom of ADHD many people with this condition – starting in childhood- experience problems establishing and maintaining relationships due to a lack of social awareness and etiquette.  Many people with ADHD do not have enough self-awareness to monitor their actions OR awareness of social cues to understand how they’re coming off to others.  People in their social spheres may view them as “inconsiderate jerks” when in reality it’s simply a lack of awareness of how they are coming off to people or how others perceive their behavior.  In other cases, people with ADHD are very “inner-focused” and therefore not tuned in to the needs or expectations of others.  People in their social spheres may consider them “aloof” and disinterested in the normal give-and-take of social interaction.  In all these cases, relationships may suffer – whether personal, school or work.

* Self-reflection questions:  How do I come off to others?  Have others mentioned things to me that I should be taking a closer look at?

So now what?

These are some common signs of ADHD, but they should not be the sole criteria used in determining if you or someone you know has ADHD.  A proper diagnosis can be made by a psychologist who specializes in ADHD assessment and knows how to differentiate ADHD from other mental health conditions that can disguise themselves as such.  If you’ve been wondering if you or someone you know has ADHD why wait any longer?  Get yourself checked out!  Call Chris Quarto, licensed psychologist, today – and not tomorrow – to get the ball rolling (615-403-5227).  Online (i.e., “Skype-like”) evaluations are available to clients in Tennessee & Michigan.  In-person evaluations are also available to clients in Tennessee.  ; )  Click here for more information.

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