Do I Have ADD? Diagnosis & Next Steps

“If Only I’d Known This 20 Years Ago”

Regret and resentment are common among adults diagnosed with ADHD after a lifetime of learning challenges, self-esteem struggles, and harsh criticism. Working through complex emotions is Step One. Then, follow these steps to decide on the best treatment plan and secure the support you need.

The difficulty of a late ADHD diagnosis

“Doctors used to be taught that ADHD affects only children,” explains Lenard Adler, M.D., director of the adult ADHD program at New York University. “But now we know that, although hyperactivity may wane, ADHD symptoms such as inattention and impulsivity continue into adulthood.”

The condition is still widely underdiagnosed in the general population. Experts estimate that about 80 percent of adults with ADHD — roughly 5 million — haven’t been officially diagnosed and are going untreated. Most undiagnosed adults know that they have more difficulties than others with organization, focus, and productivity than peers or colleagues, so the diagnosis rarely comes as a complete surprise.

From the moment you start to think you might have ADHD — or even after you get a formal diagnosis — it’s common to think, “Now what do I do?” Follow these steps to work through your emotions, assemble your team, and get the treatment you need.

Step One: Honor Your Feelings

Your immediate reaction to the news of an ADHD diagnosis may be relief — now you know why you are the way you are. But it may well be regret for past struggles and for what might have been, or fear that ADHD treatment will take away your creativity and change who you are.

You may also have difficulty accepting the diagnosis itself. “Even though my diagnosis made sense, I just couldn’t or didn’t want to believe it,” says one woman who was diagnosed in her forties.

[Free Guide: Choosing the Right Treatment Professional]

Understand that your feelings about the diagnosis, whether positive or negative, or mixed, are natural. Realizing you have something to feel sad about, or work on, or capitalize on and preserve will help you take action.

Step Two: Decide on Treatment

Deciding to move forward with treatment — particularly medication — is a big step, and just the beginning of a new course you’ll be carving out for your life. Remember that bringing about major change takes time.

Even under the care of an experienced physician, it may take weeks or even months to find a medication and dosage that work best for you. The effectiveness of ADHD medications varies with each individual, so finding the right one will involve trial and error with different doses and, possibly, different medications.

Once you and your doctor have gotten the medication right, the results can be dramatic. “The first day was like, who pulled up the shades?” recalls one woman who started a stimulant medication after much deliberation. “Already, I’m much more organized and on top of things. I can remember what time I told my teenagers to be home.”

[Your After-Diagnosis Survival Guide]

Step Three: Change Your Behavior

Studies show that ADHD in adults is treated most successfully with a combination of medication and behavior therapy. Medication can help with focus, but it’s up to you to take advantage of this newfound clarity of mind to develop strategies that will help your life flow more smoothly.

The coping systems that may have gotten you this far — relying on last-minute bursts of energy and adrenaline or putting in twice as much work behind that scenes to complete projects — are hard to sustain when family and work responsibilities begin to mount up.

“External” organization systems — checklists, planners, smartphones, beeping watches or alarms — become a way of life for many with ADHD. Many newly diagnosed adults work with experienced psychologists, psychiatrists, and ADHD coaches to learn other ADHD-friendly behavioral, time management, and organizational strategies.

Step Four: Seek Support

Effective treatment of adult ADHD rarely comes from a single doctor writing out a prescription. Your treatment “team” may eventually include a psychiatrist or other M.D., a psychologist or therapist, an ADHD coach, and a professional organizer.

Don’t underestimate the importance of emotional support. Understanding spouses, children, relatives, and friends can be a great help. Newly diagnosed adults may want to reevaluate and diversify their support systems, however, so that they don’t rely too heavily on any one person.

Now matter how understanding friends and family are, you may also find that you need to connect with others who grapple with ADHD, who don’t need you to explain what you’re going through. Attending meetings of your local chapter of CHADD, a nonprofit advocacy and education organization, can provide this kind of been-there-done-that support. Or seek support virtually — in this day and age, online communities are often easier to find (and attend) than IRL support groups!

[Born This Way: Personal Stories of Life with ADHD]

7 Comments & Reviews

  1. I have a wonderful friend who is very organized, including making and meeting long-term goals. She seems to have endless energy, and is happy most of the time. She also likes to send me lengthy emails listing all her accomplishments. I’ve gotten used to it, and I think there’s something in her that needs attention. But when I’m feeling down on myself, I can also feel very resentful towards her!

    It seems like life in general is a struggle for me. And as I’ve gotten older, I find myself getting tired much more easily. When I was young, I could drive myself into exhaustion. Now exhaustion seems to take over before I can even get going. I do have another close friend who definitely suffers from ADD, and even though I don’t wish this on anyone, there’s something helpful about having a friend who knows how I feel and being able to laugh and encourage one another through some of our frustrations.

    1. Indeed, your ADHD friends, especially those “hi-test” people who can get on a single block of empty space set aside for comments or sending an email, and practically fill the boxes within minutes and then we wonder why our friends and even relatives dread hearing from us. Take it from a guy who’d think nothing of posting a new version of the Bible, War and Peace, the US Constitution and Grant’s Memoirs of the Civil War. Oh, forgot, Churchill’s tomes on history. Gotta be careful or you’ll one day have somebody like David McCullough describe your emailing the same way he described how John Adams would buy a book and have it filled with notes going up, down, sideways, you name it, on each and every page in the many books he used to buy in Paris. And my doctor said I had ADHD “in spades.” I’m not an intellectual and age has slowed down my writing and woodworking, two joys I have remaining in my retirement. Yes, I’m trying to write a book for ADHD (etc) kids of all ages to get into simple woodworking to learn necessary skills and have something to thump their chests over when they point to a completed project and say “Huzzah,” instead of “Phew, finally.” It might not seem that big of a deal, but for older folks with ADHD and a lifetime of broken projects, hanging in the air much like a writer’s dangling participles left hanging on bad sentence structure . . . trust me, it’s Big. Real big. I’ll never forget a wooden battleship I made for my then-five year old eldest son. I was driving my wife Ruth nuts, pacing and just mouthing off about something I can’t recall and she sent me over to my parent’s house to build Jimmy a flat-bottom boat he would push and play with on the floor. “You’ve been wanting to do it, so just go over.” I did, my then widowed dad was ecstatic when he saw the results and my son loved it too. That and a WWII era style carrier to go with it. To make a long story mercifully shorter, just getting off my dupa, putting my hands to something and sticking with it did wonders. I still make things for kids and indoor nativity stalls for Christmas decor and indoor decorative birdhouses or replications of classic colonial style buildings. Ruth and the kids are awaiting for some well-spring of extra income we badly need, but without it, I don’t know where I’d “be.” You may not make a lot of money with your crafts or create a huge reading audience. It’s what these avocational pursuits do for you and your family when they see you getting back on your feet and doing something and becoming more organized, etc. To them it’s the sign you haven’t “given into the reality of the situation.” Besides, when depression starts to overtake our thinking, its all too easy to forget what we’re really capable of doing and have done. Don’t let that happen to you. It almost happened to me, and this morning, my youngest son who’s struggling with many of the same aspects of ADHD, etc. that I am, literally had it and gave it to me with the effects of real 16″ battleship guns. I objected mostly to the method he chose and the disrespect he showed; but how can I h old it against him? After all, emotions and ADHD go hand in hand like a molotov cocktail in the hands of a volatile crowd rabble rouser. “Get down in that basement and get your hands back on that damn scroll saw,” demanded Andrew. And he was right. Folks, don’t let it get this far. Ah, now I can finally get back to writing the book that’s been in me for a while, “Pop’s Shop,” which is about woodworking and ADHD and comorbid disabilities, with a few sample but much simpler projects included for trying on your own. Just find something, and do it with your family, esp. those who have similar disabilities. When the kids see their parents getting back into the game, it changes their perspectives about you, and your perspectives about yourself as well

  2. I a 54 yo male andI was diagnosed with ADHD when I was 50. I was shocked! But the more I learn about ADHD, the more I wish I had been diagnosed when I was a teenager. Ugh!! I have been on on adderall for the past four years. (20mg ER in the morning, and 10mg two or three times a day every four hours. I usually take the third dose when I have an evening meeting). Over the past 18-24 months, my wife and I have noticed that my symptoms are getting worse. I am having more difficulty focusing, becoming more forgetful, running late for meetings, losing items etc. I have discussed this with my psychiatrist and therapist, and we are taking a “wait and see approach.” In the meantime, I am wondering if other middle aged adults have had a similar experience? If so, what did you find helpful? My wife wants me to explore behavioral forms of treatment? Have any of younfound that helpful? Finally, even though the adderall helps me to better focus in conversations and meetings, it has never really helped me to focus better when I am reading. I am halfway down a page, and suddenly I realize that I am thinking about an episode of “Gilligan’s Island!” Reading is very important in my vocation. It has always been a challenge for me but it has become even more difficult. Any suggestions for improvement??? Thank you for any insight you can offer!

    1. Try upping your dose to 30 mg then do 20 mg no 10 mg. I really suggest a therapist who specializes in ADHD. So you can learn how to be with yourself and understand who you really are.

  3. Okay i have multiple signs of ADHD. What is the first step? Do you see a therapist a doctor a physcologist? Any information would help. Just don’t know the proper steps. Called doctors and they say see a psychologist but i thought they couldn’t prescribe medicine. Any help would be great. Thanks in advance.

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