Dr Russell A Barklay is an expert in ADHD and clinical professor of psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina. In a recent article he explains how ADHD symptoms change with age: “By adulthood hyperactivity is pretty much gone. Some people feel inner restlessness, but they aren’t climbing furniture or sliding down bannisters.”
A spokesperson for ADHD charity ADDISS
explains that adults are usually diagnosed with ADHD after a burnout. “People with ADHD have had to put 500% in throughout childhood and exams and just assumed everyone had to work as hard as they did. When they leave home, they suffer from a sort of burnout. Often, they’ve been propped up by their parents but when they leave that support structure, their ADHD symptoms pop up.”
Laura Ho, 26, is now a pharmacist, and was labelled ‘gifted’ during her secondary education. At 21, she went to see a university counsellor as she was suffering extreme anxiety when it came to test taking. “We figured out it was stemming from ADHD. Being in a large room with over 300 students at the same time made for lots of minor distractions and it felt impossible to sit through exams. I found out later that there were many signs that pointed to ADHD – for example I’m always running late and I’m very forgetful."
Being an adult with ADHD can often mean coping with these issues alone; there’s no parent there 24/7 hand-holding you, pointing you to your shoes, then your coat, then the door keys. I get locked out of my apartment more than anyone else I know. I leave my passport on planes, lose business cards even when they’ve just been handed to me, and on flights leave my bag right in the rack. As a waitress, I delivered food to the wrong tables, or bounded through the restaurant with enthusiasm only to find out I’d hit the till too enthusiastically and now table 12 had eight bowls of spag bol coming their way. Up until the age of 22, employers told me I was friendly and intelligent, but essentially, too disorganised to hold down a part-time job.
ADHD doesn’t just affect employees engaged in manual jobs, either. If anything, holding down a graduate career with ADHD can be even harder. Emily Jones, 27, was diagnosed with ADHD in her 20s after finding reading challenging. “There were things I wanted to know, things I was interested in, things I really wanted to read, but I just couldn’t. When I found myself sitting in a coffee shop holding a book I wanted to read and crying in frustration because I just couldn't, I realised something was up.”
ADHD manifests in a serious inability to concentrate. Laura found the condition affected her career dramatically, which, when you’re starting out on the bottom rung after graduation, is the last thing you need. “I'm a pharmacist now, so I verify up to 350 orders a day. Each order requires only a short burst of focus before I move on to the next one so it’s a great job for me. Prior to that I worked a corporate job in pharmaceuticals, which had a lot of longer, project-based tasks and that was the absolute worst!”