How to Spot the Symptoms of Adult ADD

If you're easily distracted, chronically late, or prone to compulsive behavior, treatment for ADD might help

If you drive by Lisa Greenberg’s house, you might see her car doors swung wide open, but the car empty and no one in sight. Her house keys may still dangle in the front door lock. The amount of clutter and disorganization inside the house might strike you as out of control. And when Greenberg is overwhelmed, the delivery truck makes frequent stops at her door because she tends to shop compulsively to cope with stress.

“I really want to be organized, but I don’t know how to do it,” says Greenberg, a married mother of two. “I’m always losing things, leaving things out, leaving things undone. It’s a frustration for everyone.”

Greenberg’s forgetfulness, distractedness, impulsive behavior and disorganization are hallmarks of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a condition most commonly associated with childhood but whose effects continue into adulthood. Like many adults with the disorder, Greenberg still experiences extreme distractibility that affects her everyday life.

Because you can’t “get” ADHD--it is a genetic neurobiochemical disorder--in order to be diagnosed as an adult, you must have exhibited symptoms as a child. But, as Ari Tuckman, Psy.D., author of More Attention, Less Deficit, points out: “If you’re older than about 30 to 35, it’s very unlikely that you would have been diagnosed as a kid simply because we didn’t know that much about it then.”

Instead, he says, “other explanations were used. ‘He just needs to try harder,’ ‘She is just not that motivated,’ and, ‘He is just a bad kid.’ The symptoms were there, they just weren’t labeled with ADHD."

Greenberg, 46, says she fits that bill. “I was the student who lost everything but crammed at the last minute and then did very well,” she says. “I was the one who missed the bus to school, the kid with the very messy room, the one who always lost her notebook.”

Her ability to hyperfocus on things that interested her helped her to attain an Ivy League degree, though. Once Greenberg entered the career world, bosses were often completely frustrated by her apparent disorganization and perpetually messy desk. “But I was able to pull the rabbit out of the hat,” Greenberg says. “That’s a very (ADHD) feature. We can do some pretty amazing things. But we don’t think traditionally.”

How do adults often get diagnosed? Keep reading.

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