Tell-Tale Signs of Adult ADHD

Tell-Tale Signs of Adult ADHD

With high profile celebrities like NBC’s ‘The Voice’ judge Adam Levine, TV news broadcasters like Phoenix-based Kaley O'Kelley, and others like “The ADHD CEO” Greg Selkoe now publicly “owning” their ADHD diagnosis, it begs many questions: How does one know if they have adult ADHD -- what are the signs? Can problems with punctuality, organization, and focus be due to adult ADHD or are these difficulties simply related to stress or other lifestyle issues? Is adult ADHD sabotaging your career, business or relationship? And, can ADHD actually manifest itself later in life after a diagnosis-free childhood?  I applaud initiatives like ‘The Own it Project’ that are encouraging adults to recognize and even embrace their ADD/HD, and get real answers to these and other important questions. 

One does not truly outgrow ADD/HD.   One hopefully just learns how to better understand, work with and manage both the gifts and the drawback of the ADD/HD impact.  In some cases the individual finds passions, talents and gifts and through hyper focusing into them become enormously successful).  Yet another may struggle with addiction issues, low self-worth, self-esteem issues, end up in the penal system, or never “get their act together” living far beneath their potential.  For others they simply find someone else who is perfectly happy to manage their life for them and a career that is perfectly suited for them. 

To outgrow ADD/HD is paramount to saying I am going to outgrow having blue eyes or brown hair.  It is simply part of the package.  Just like girls tend to mature faster than boys, ADD/HD individuals do tend to be late bloomers in certain areas and that becomes more noticeable in boys than in girls because boys are late bloomers anyway. 

Some of the most troublesome of the ADD/HD issues that showed up in childhood do get mediated through them physiologically “catching up” to their peers.  Nevertheless the emotional and psychological damage of not fitting in, never living up to your potential, never understanding your why you are different or made to feel like you are a failure are all other issues both the diagnosed and not diagnosed ADD/HD child often takes into adulthood.    

The following things may have been present in your childhood, which allowed you as a child to slip through the ADD/HD loop:

  • You were a visual learner
  • You went to a cutting edge, or smaller higher quality school system
  • You were fed a better diet
  • You had parents who knew how to support you better and recognized all the gifts that came along with those things that would have gotten you labeled and refused to go for the label.
  • You had at least one consistent loving adult raising you through your first several years of life who had the ability to recognize the things you need to succeed and made sure you got them. 

Whatever the reason …

Today as an adult you are living with these tell-tale signs of adult ADHD, which can include the following negative and positive traits:

  • Organizationally challenged
  • Trouble starting and finishing projects
  • Miss social cues
  • Difficulty being subtle
  • Hyper-focused to the point of losing track of time
  • Multi-tasks to the point of distraction
  • Does not work well in traditional workplace setting
  • Marital troubles
  • Poor listening skills
  • Chronic lateness
  • Angry outbursts 
  • Trouble prioritizing
  • Gets bored easily
  • Naturally rebellious
  • Addictive personality
  • Tendency towards self medicating
  • High energy
  • Highly creative
  • Good problem solver, innovator, inventor
  • When interested love to learn, share and teach new things

There are untold millions of adults who were never diagnosed in childhood and are dealing with ADD/HD symptoms in an unproductive manner. The result is unhappy, underutilized lives that are not harnessing the incredible potential that comes with the ‘gift’ of ADD/HD.  Recognizing that, with proper self-awareness and management, there are many ways adult ADD/HD can prove beneficial is key for those with the condition to be genuinely happy and succeed at home and at work. And, “quick fix” medication need not apply with so many other methods now available to help ADD/HD adults realize whole life success. 

Whether ADD/HD was identified in childhood or later as an adult, the emotional and psychological damage of not fitting in, never living up to your potential, never understanding your why you are different, or feeling like you are a failure often takes its toll into adulthood.    Many may struggle with addictions, low self-worth, self-esteem issues, never ‘get their act together’ living far below their potential or, in extreme cases, end up in the penal system. Yet, in some cases ADD/HD individuals channel their passions and talents to achieve enormous personal and professional success.  Knowledge is power, and a proper adult ADD/HD diagnosis is paramount to managing the condition and, actually realizing the many gifts ADD/HD has to offer the individual -- and society at large.

I view ADD/HD as an evolutionary process that broadens the bandwidth of humanity, which we should celebrate rather than stifle.  However well intended, society’s collective attempts to medically treat and otherwise manage ADD/HD individuals often negatively impacts their self-worth and self-esteem and significantly hinders their ability to reach their full potential. Indeed, the stakes are high when it comes to finding a successful treatment plan.

Those who have difficulties managing the condition or who face criticism from parents, teachers and, in adulthood, friends and business associates, for perceived laziness and bad behavior can face a lifetime of emotional problems that can manifest in problematic personal relationships and career misfortunes. And, the loss of this population’s insights, brilliance and creativity -- their unique gifts -- are typically sacrificed in order to help them ‘fit in’ to society. Instead, we should celebrate and nurture those children and adults living with ADD/HD as they are so that they can, in turn, love and respect themselves and realize their full capabilities…to the benefit of us all.

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Written by: Dr. Kevin Ross Emery See other articles by Dr. Kevin Ross Emery
About the Author:

ADD/HD authority Dr. Kevin Ross Emery is an international speaker and the author of “Managing the Gift of your ADD/HD Child” and “Managing the Gift: Alternative Approaches to Attention Deficit Disorder,” which are built upon more than 14 years of experience working with individuals of all ages living with Attention Deficit Disorder -- and a lifetime of personal experience with the condition. He may be reached online at

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