ADHD in Adults

Research Basis for ADHD in Adults

The earliest research that suggested ADHD might persist into adulthood was in the late 1960s. However, at the time ADHD was not an official diagnosis and it was thought that these children and adults had “hyperactivity or minimal brain damage” (p.10) (Barkley, Murphy & Fischer, 2008). At the time, early researchers had noted that the characteristics definitive of hyperactivity or minimal brain damage were present in adult patients (Murphy & Fisher, 2008).

ADHD was thought to be a disorder that occurs only in childhood because of a “mathematical model developed by Hill and Schoener (1996)” (p.14; cited in Farone, Biederman, Spencer, Wilens, Seidman, Mick & Doyle, 2000). Their model indicated that children diagnosed with ADHD would outgrow their disorder by their late teens or early twenties (Farone et al., 2000).

Evidence supporting the existence of ADHD in adults has shown that adults with the disorder show impairments that are not characteristic of adults without ADHD. For instance, adults with ADHD tend to have lower incomes, issues in the workplace as well as higher rates of job instability (Farone et al., 2000). Additonally, adults with ADHD tend to display similiar difficulties in academic settings, as children who are diagnosed with ADHD. Having ADHD as an adult in college is correlated with lower overall grade performance (Farone et al., 2000).

Researchers believe that adult ADHD came into awareness later because the hyperactive symptoms tend to be less prominent in adults and ultimately the inattention characteristic of ADHD-IA is not as noticeable as the hyperactivity (Farone et al., 2000). Symptoms of ADHD that tend to be expressed in adulthood are “inattention, disorganization, distractibility, and impulsivity” (p. 115)(Wilens et al., 2002). Studies also that indicate that people whose ADHD does continue past childhood have had family members who were diagnosed with ADHD and were typically aggressive (Wilens et al., 2002).

ADHD Symptoms Persisting into Adulthood / present on WebMD

Diagnosing Adults with ADHD

For an adult to receive a diagnosis of ADHD, he or she must have had the disorder as a child as well as “persistent and current symptoms of ADHD” (p. 114) (Wilens, Biederman & Spencer, 2002). Children diagnosed with ADHD are much more likely to have parents with ADHD than parents who do not meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD (Farone et al., 2000). In the 1970s, a total of seven characteristics was determined to be present into adulthood; though not all seven need to be present for an adult to be diagnosed with ADHD (Murphy & Fischer, 2008).

The DSM-IV-TR’s criteria was adapted to fit a diagnosis of ADHD in an adult. Because a diagnosis of ADHD in childhood needs to be present for an adult diagnosis of ADHD, patients report on their behavior as children, particularly in school (Murphy & Fischer, 2008). This is done in order for a clinician to be sure that a patient had ADHD as a child, particularly if the patient was never formally diagnosed as having ADHD (Murphy & Fischer, 2008).

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