You’ve heard about ADHD in children, and you even recognize how important it is for kids’ and their families to spot and acknowledge it so they can better thrive in play, school and home. But what about undiagnosed ADHD in adults? Judy Katz, a pediatric occupational therapist in Chicago, has not only worked with families to support the subtle yet complex lives of kids with sensory processing issues and ADHD for years, but she herself has ADHD—and she only recognized it in adulthood.
“I know first-hand how important it can be to hear that ADHD diagnosis, especially as an adult,” Katz shares. If you’re living with ADHD and don’t realize it, not knowing can negatively impact your sense of self in pretty major ways. For example, you might feel that others underestimate you in terms of intelligence and ability. “In my own journey, I learned I needed to understand the holes of my executive function skills to realize my dreams. For example, practicing delegating to others has meant that I could bypass my own weak areas (like proofreading, scheduling and finances), so I could hone my energy and creativity in better, more productive ways,” says Katz.
Curious about spotting ADHD? Here are ten signs of ADHD in adults, according to Katz.
1. You get distracted by your own thoughts
It’s common for people with ADHD to miss parts of TV shows, conversations or any long-form content—especially because the dresses in Bridgerton made you remember that you had to pick up clothes from the cleaners and oh, you need to get cash for holiday gifts, and wait, who are the Bridgertons and the Featheringtons? (Helpful tip: If you know a conversation is really important, record it on your phone so you can re-listen to it as needed, Katz advises.)
2. You get distracted by your environment
On a walk or driving to work, you might find yourself getting lost and not attending to critical details, especially if there’s something around you to steal your attention away—like gaper’s block, a dancing crossing guard or Terry Gross’s soothing voice on Fresh Air.
3. You experience motoric hyperactivity
Sounds complicated, but per Katz, this really just means you have trouble sitting still. “You might feel that you need to pace, rock or fidget—this is why fidget spinners were so awesome for children and adults who need that sensory input in order to concentrate better.”
4. You’re oral-sensory seeking
Feel the need to chew gum, drink coffee, munch on straws or pens in order to be calm and focused? That’s oral-sensory seeking!
5. You have a short attention span
Probably one of the more well-known signs of ADHD, if the topic is not interesting enough, you might lose focus, your eyes might wander, and your thoughts might go elsewhere.
6. You experience disorganization in daily routines
Always losing your keys, credit card, phone, hats and gloves? Katz says this is a common shared occurrence of people with ADHD.
7. You have difficulty organizing your own life (and others)
“Taking care of yourself is hard enough. But if you’re a caretaker or parent, keeping up with laundry, lunches, carpools, pod days and times, and doctor appointments can be a huge challenge,” says Katz.
8. You have decreased time management skills
These are the planning ahead, executive function skills like showing up to appointments on time. For some people, this happens more naturally, Katz explains. But for those with ADHD, the pieces don’t always come together as easily. “Estimating the right amount of time needed to get dressed, put on makeup, gather needed items, allow for traffic, catch the train—ADHD makes these brain processes harder.”
9. You experience anxiety
“The weight of knowing that others’ depend on you to manage yours and their time can be daunting. It can manifest in anxiety over knowing your tendencies and trying your hardest to avoid them—not wanting to be the last one to pick your kid up at school or a birthday party or be late to a meeting because you forgot your phone and had to head back to get it,” Katz tells us.
10. You have trouble initiating tasks (and then completing them too)
“As an adult with ADHD, I find myself both procrastinating and then also starting lots of projects at one time…which unfortunately don’t always get finished,” says Katz. Maybe it’s that you start emptying the dishwasher, then go to folding towels in the laundry room, then to vacuuming the entire house and then, you realize you never finished emptying the dishwasher.
So you think you might have ADHD as adult...what now?
We hear a lot of people minimize short attention spans or make fun of themselves with, “Ugh, I’m so ADD.” But if you have an inkling you might be, it's worth exploring Katz says. “Even if subtle, these issues can cause havoc and discomfort in your relationships and daily life. There are solutions! There are medications, as well as many approaches.” Katz recommends talking to your doctor about your symptoms and/or seeking a psychologist, therapist or social worker in the field of ADHD who can help to figure out your exact profile (and refer you to a doctor if medication would be beneficial).
“For me,” Katz confides, “it felt life-changing to identify the issue—even in my in my 40s—rather than having it be a shameful secret. My friends and family are my biggest supporters in terms of understanding and feedback.”