Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a fairly common type of psychological disorder that begins and is usually diagnosed in childhood.
What is ADHD?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH), “Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a brain disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.”
Most children with ADHD are identified during their years in school due to hyperactivity, which makes it hard for them to sit still in class.
Some have only ADD, attention deficit without hyperactivity. Despite being bright and articulate, these children have difficulty paying attention in class and completing their work. Many of these children are not identified until middle or high school, and they are labeled as “underachievers” or “lazy.”
And then many children slip through the cracks and are never diagnosed or given the help they need because their symptoms are less obvious.
For this reason, many adults don’t realize that many of their life struggles are closely tied to unrecognized symptoms of ADHD or ADD.
Sadly, when this happens, the person in question remains unaware of why they struggled in school.
Although they have many of the symptoms, their parents and teachers never realized that they suffered from ADHD. They may have become class clowns, mischievous troublemakers, or dropouts, and they grow up feeling as though they must be lazy or dumb.
Often, they don’t realize they suffer from ADHD until they become parents themselves and one of their children is diagnosed.
Most people are aware of the more obvious symptoms typically associated with ADHD, including impulsivity, trouble focusing, and disorganization.
There are, however, six less well-known but fairly common symptoms of ADHD in adults, namely:
- Above-average IQ
- Low self-esteem
- Accident proneness
- Difficulty holding jobs or completing educational programs
- Trouble in personal relationships
- Depression and suicidal thoughts
Here are 6 small-but-often-overlooked symptoms of ADHD in adults:
1. Above Average IQ
Sadly, adults with ADHD may think they are stupid when in reality, children and adults with ADHD often score at above-average levels of intelligence on IQ tests.
They tend to be friends with more intelligent kids growing up but feel unequal to them because they have difficulty doing well in school. Their friends seem to be smarter because they don’t have to work hard and make good grades.
ADHD and ADD make even simple school-related tasks difficult.
2. Low Self Esteem
Over time, it’s not surprising that this leads to the second little-known symptom of adults with ADHD: low self-esteem.
Although they may have vast areas of knowledge, they are unable to demonstrate their abilities in school without special assistance or training. As they feel less and less self-worth, they often stop trying, act out, or become class clowns. They believe that they fail without having tried especially hard, no one will “find out” they are “stupid.”
3. Accident Proneness
Adults with ADHD may be accident-prone. They may have difficulty learning to drive, as driving requires paying attention to multiple tasks at a time. It is especially hard as a new driver to steer, watch the road signs, notice pedestrians, remember to look in the side or rearview mirrors, and remember where you need to turn to reach a new destination.
Add ADHD to the mix and it’s not surprising that accident proneness is often an accompanying symptom.
4. Difficulty keeping jobs or completing educational programs
If completing assignments in school was hard, starting and keeping jobs is even harder for those challenged by this disorder.
In our current world, with the trend for open office space with cubbies and partial walls, adults with ADHD are handicapped from the get-go. Distractions abound, making it hard to do their jobs. It is, therefore, common to have spotty work histories, making it hard to stay employed.
They may try going to college but drop out or take many years to complete degrees.
5. Difficulty in relationships
Relationships also suffer when adults are unaware of their ADHD diagnosis.
I worked with a very intelligent man who came in for marital problems. He was a lawyer who, with the help of friends and college advisors, somehow completed law school without ever knowing he had ADD. His wife was ready to leave him because he was so forgetful that she thought he didn’t care about her. She would call him to ask him to bring home bread just before he left the office and he would arrive 20 minutes later without the bread.
These kinds of things happen daily. He would arrive late to work because he would miss the exit on the highway he drove on daily.
When I took his history, all the symptoms of ADD were present throughout his life. He hid his disability well with his exceptional intelligence, but after he started a trial on medication even his secretary at work noticed the change in his ability to get things done in a timely fashion. It also saved his marriage.
6. Depression and suicidal thoughts
The last symptom many people are not aware of is that adults with ADHD may become depressed, or even suicidal.
As you can see from the previous five symptoms, cumulatively over time, ADHD takes a toll on adults.
Living your life being smart, but feeling dumb. Developing low self-esteem, trouble in relationships while having trouble in school, and difficulty keeping jobs over time can lead to depression and suicidal thoughts.
Once an adult or those who love them begin to realize that they need help, a trained professional can assess whether untreated ADHD/ADD may be the underlying cause of the depression.
With psychotherapy and medication, adults with ADHD can be helped to lead healthy happy lives.
If you know someone who may have ADD or ADHD encourage them to speak to an expert so that they can get the help that they may have needed from when they were children.
If you or somebody that you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, there is a way to get help. Call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or text “HELLO” to 741741 to be connected with the Crisis Text Line.
Dr. Barbara Lavi is a public speaker, licensed clinical psychologist, founder of ACTNowPsychotherapy, and author of the bestselling book The Wake-Up and Dream Challenge.