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Webinar: Psychological Approaches to Creating Healthy Media Habits. 5/24 – 1 – 4 pm. 3 CE. Register Now!

The Complexity of Adult ADHD: How to Evaluate & Understand ADHD in Adults


By Aimee Dispoto, PsyD

Social media makes our lives easier in so many ways. We can do research, find a restaurant with the best sushi, get suggestions for decorating, skin care, exercise, and even do a 1-minute online ADHD “assessment” from home. While increased awareness about mental health is undeniably a positive change, the increased trend of self-diagnosis can often lead to misunderstanding and mismanagement of a condition like ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder).

Understanding What ADHD Is, And Isn’t

ADHD is not simply an inability to sit still or a tendency to get distracted. It is a chronic neurodevelopmental disorder (meaning that it’s a condition in which the growth and development of the brain is affected) and it can affect various aspects of a person’s life, such as their social interactions, academic or professional achievements, and overall mental health. This disorder can impact an individual’s ability to maintain attention, control impulses, and organize tasks. But it’s essential to remember that ADHD is not just about “being easily distracted” or “forgetting things often”. It’s a complex disorder involving various neurological processes and can touch almost every aspect of an individual’s life,

Although it is often diagnosed during childhood, ADHD can continue into adulthood or may even be first recognized in adulthood. However, it’s important to understand that we should avoid self-diagnosing based on information we encounter on social media or other online platforms. Misinformation is rampant, and even accurate information can be misunderstood or misapplied, leading to unnecessary stress, confusion, and potentially harmful decisions. ADHD has specific diagnostic criteria that can only be identified through a comprehensive evaluation by a professional.

Self-Diagnosis of ADHD: A Double-Edged Sword

Understanding that attention can be influenced by many factors is key to the evaluation process- and this is where social media (those tik tok videos we all know and love) can do us wrong. While it’s true that these posts might help individuals recognize they may be struggling, they should be the start of a journey to understand their issues, not the conclusion. Sleep deprivation, stress, dietary habits, insufficient physical exercise, depression, anxiety, learning disabilities – these, among others, have the potential to impact our focus. However, ADHD is only one element within this extensive list. A person who is regularly unable to concentrate might be struggling with any number of these issues, not necessarily ADHD.

The Importance Of a Professional ADHD Evaluation

Only a full evaluation done by a licensed professional can sort through all these possibilities to identify the root cause or causes of the difficulties a person is experiencing. This is why seeking professional help if you suspect you or a loved one may have ADHD is so crucial. An Adult ADHD evaluation should only be conducted by a licensed clinician. It typically includes a detailed interview, consideration of a person’s developmental history, and often involves rating scales or questionnaires. Sometimes other psychological tests may be used as well. The process is thorough because it needs to distinguish ADHD from other conditions that might have overlapping symptoms. General criteria for an accurate ADHD diagnosis include areas such as persistent inattention, hyperactivity-impulsivity, symptoms that began in childhood, and symptoms that interfere in multiple settings (home, school, work etc.) and create a significant impairment in the quality of life.

Management of ADHD is more than just medication. It involves behavioral interventions, psychoeducation, skills training, and sometimes, psychotherapy. A professional evaluation can provide the appropriate roadmap to address the disorder holistically.

ADHD is Complex

While it’s great to see more discussions about ADHD and other mental health issues in the public sphere, it’s crucial to remember that understanding these disorders is a complex process that requires professional involvement. If you suspect you might have ADHD, seek out a full evaluation from a mental health professional. They can help you navigate this journey and find the most effective strategies for managing your specific challenges.

Many of our therapists are experienced in working with adults and children with ADHD. Comprehensive ADHD testing can also be provided to assess the severity and extent of presenting symptoms, and to clarify whether medication is warranted. Contact our office to determine the best approach for your situation.

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