HELP! I can’t focus. Do I have ADHD?

Health & Wellness Mental Health

Maybe. Maybe not. A lot of people have been asking this question during the pandemic.

Some of this is because more people are working from home or having changes to their work schedules and routines. And this has made people aware of distractibility, changes in work habits, or difficulty adjusting to the demands of home and work life. But is this just adjustment, ADHD, or both?

⬇️ Keep reading to find out! ⬇️

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a 🧠 neurodevelopmental disorder 🧠 that BEGINS IN CHILDHOOD. Symptoms that start in adulthood are usually not ADHD (unless they just weren’t noticed before!) and are often caused by conditions like depression, anxiety, or other medical causes. It is important to note that ADHD is a condition of how the brain develops and is not caused by a person’s character or work ethic. There are many misconceptions about that. And while we still are learning about ADHD, we do know that it is related to development and can be made worse or better by the environment in which someone lives and learns.

🌍 ADHD affects up to 8% of children and 5% of adults. This number varies by country because of cultural norms, rates of diagnosis, and supports after diagnosis. ADHD affects all genders. It used to be thought that it only affected men, but we know that it can present VERY differently in women (and likely other gender identities although we do not have good data for other groups of people). If you are interested in learning more about ADHD in women, check out the links below.

🔑 The key features of ADHD are inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Inattention is related to behaviors like having problems staying on task or having a hard time following a conversation. Hyperactivity can be seen as physical restlessness but it can also be described as being “driven by a motor” or talking nonstop. Impulsivity is when someone acts quickly without necessarily thinking of the consequences, like talking over others, cutting a line, or skipping a work meeting because there is something else (usually more fun) to do. Not all of these symptoms need to be present to have a diagnosis of ADHD. In fact, some people have inattentive ADHD (ADHD-I) and some people have hyperactive-impulsive type (ADHD-H). To make things more confusing, some people have both sets of symptoms and have combined type ADHD (ADHD-C).

To be diagnosed with ADHD, someone has to have 6 of 9 symptoms of inattention or 6 of 9 symptoms of hyperactivity/impulsivity. Inattentive symptoms include: making careless mistakes; difficulty with attention at work, school, or socially; seeming like one is not listening; difficulty with instructions; difficulty with organization; avoiding hard tasks; losing things; being easily distracted; and/or being forgetful. Hyperactive/impulsive symptoms include: being unable to sit in a seat; fidgeting or squirming; being restless or moving around constantly; being unable to play or work quietly; feeling like one is being driven by a motor; talking a lot; having a difficulty waiting a turn; interrupting others; or talking out of turn. All of these symptoms have to be present in childhood and should occur in the home and other environment (like work or school). A few things that people don’t usually talk about: people with ADHD are often sensitive or emotionally reactive (Think: I have big feelings!!), often have difficulty understanding social interactions and making/keeping friends, can have sensory issues, and/or can have difficulty with speech and/or motor skills at earlier ages. Finally, people with ADHD can often “hyper focus” on an activity, usually one that is rewarding. So it isn’t just about the ability to do something for a while, it is about shifting tasks to something less interesting or rewarding that is the challenge for people with ADHD. Of course, these behaviors do not encompass all issues that people with ADHD have, but do highlight some of the common ones.

😶‍🌫️ Many of these symptoms overlap with other diagnoses so it is really important to be evaluated by a professional to understand if you really do have ADHD. Evaluation of ADHD consists of completing rating scales to screen for symptoms, psychological testing if it may be impacting cognitive function or processing of information, and/or psychiatric evaluation to determine if there are other diagnoses and/or if medication may be beneficial. Many times learning differences and executive function challenges can be present in ADHD, although having ADHD does NOT necessarily mean that someone has a difference in intelligence. Other diagnosis like Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) or Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) can also be present with ADHD. Treatment for ADHD usually involves 🫖 therapy and 💊 medication [a lot of this initial evidence came from the Multimodal Treatment of ADHD (MTA) study linked below]. Medications for adults include both stimulant medications (like Methylphenidate) and non-stimulant medication [like Atomoxetine (Strattera)]. One or both could help you if you are struggling with ADHD.

So what should you do if you think you have ADHD?

➡️ Know that you are not alone! Lots of people have ADHD and there is support out there for you. Communities like Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) can be a great place to start.

➡️Get evaluated for ADHD. You can start with your primary care clinician to fill out screening scales and to see if you should have further evaluation to rule out other conditions. Many times primary care clinicians can prescribe medication for ADHD and/or make an appropriate referral to someone who can determine if medication, therapy, or both is right for you.

➡️ Do not be discouraged and find life tips that work for others with ADHD! There are MANY ways to help support you in your life if you have ADHD. Using different strategies that are right for your brain can help you to function better. The first step is knowing if you have ADHD to find these strategies. And know that it is never too late to start. A lot of people with ADHD have shame around past behaviors or missteps-know that it is not your fault and that it CAN get better.

🫶 And remember, just because you can’t focus, does not necessarily mean that you have ADHD. ADHD is a lifelong, constant, and life-altering condition. For some, but not all people, ADHD symptoms have become worse during the pandemic. But it is important to consider your context, life changes, stressors, medical issues, family situation and anything else that may be influencing your focus and concentration before you consider ADHD as a diagnosis. Speaking with a professional can help you clarify this. And if you do have ADHD, know that there is hope, that you can live a fulfilling and successful life, and can improve your ability to focus, get your work done, and have good relationships in and out of the home.

Stay safe. Stay well.
Those Nerdy Girls

Additional links:

ADHD from the NIMH

ADHD from the CDC

American Psychological Association ADHD

MTA study


ADHD in women links:

Kristen Carder I have ADHD podcast

Jessica McCabe how to ADHD YouTube and education

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