There are many different lists to be found on the internet with symptoms for ADHD to explore, I have added links at the end of this post. I decided that I wanted to try to break down some of the most common symptoms of ADHD for adults for my own understanding, and share them with you.
Please note that I am not a diagnostician, nor am I a doctor, but I do have ADHD and a desire to learn and share the information I do come across.
Let me know if you have any contributions towards the list below, or any questions, or comments.
Inattentive Presentation Symptoms
Difficulty with staying focused, not responding when spoken to directly, daydreaming:
Boredom- seeking dopamine from internal stimuli (daydreaming and other thoughts that may be milling around in your mind) if external isn’t providing any, feeling anxious and overwhelmed by current environment causes a need to turn inward for comfort and safety, executive dysfunction leading to difficulties with managing self-regulation. This also applies to struggles when switching from one task to another (if distracted, someone calling your name may struggle to get your attention the first time), or getting distracted by new thoughts and this becomes a brand new topic for hyperfocus.
Lack of attention to detail:
Tasks and projects take time and planning, time-blindness causes difficulty in planning how long tasks may take to complete, and executive dysfunction causes a struggle with the self-regulation required to get tasks started.
Tasks need to be broken down into sections, and this may feel overwhelming, leading to decision paralysis and anxiety. All this combined may lead to poor planning, and rushing the work, which may lead to the result being messy, and poorly executed.
Distractions (internally or externally) may also cause sections to be incomplete, or not answered correctly.
Disorganised, misplacing belongings:
Untidiness, struggling with timekeeping, forgetting appointments and deadlines.
Disorganisation may be caused by executive dysfunction leading to struggle with getting the motivation to organise, difficulty multitasking, working memory, and planning.
Time-blindness could also affect how to manage time effectively, causing missing deadlines, not returning calls, and forgetting appointments.
It could also be caused by getting completely distracted halfway through a task, and instead of completing the task, it just gets left as it is.
Misplaced items can be caused by executive dysfunction- poor working memory, working on autopilot causing lack of focus, struggle switching between tasks.
Procrastination, feeling a lack of motivation or paralysed when it comes to completing certain tasks or projects such as chores, meetings, writing reports, or filling out forms.
This may be down to decision paralysis (feeling overwhelmed by too many things so ending up doing nothing at all), the task may feel too overwhelming, causing feelings of anxiety, leading to shutdowns and/or meltdowns. Dopamine seeking could also be a factor, this task isn’t providing the dopamine that’s in such short supply so this needs to be tended to instead. Perhaps the deadline being imminent is the only way to get the task done which causes a rush of dopamine, plus the additional push of external pressure.
Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation Symptoms
Restlessness, struggles to remain seated (e.g., needs to leave desk, meetings, cinema, or seat at a restaurant). Seems as though they need to be “on the go,” or behaving as though they are “driven by a motor”:
Could be caused by pent-up energy that needs to be released, boredom causing a need for a change of scenery (lack of dopamine), struggling with concentration caused by executive dysfunction, or may be caused by feelings of anxiety and the need to stim to feel calmer.
Talks excessively, speaking over other people before they are finished speaking to ask questions or to finish their sentence, butts in without waiting for their turn in a conversation, struggles to wait their turn (e.g., standing in queues):
Enthusiasm caused by hyperfocus, executive dysfunction causing lack of self-awareness (to know when to stop), lack of self-restraint (lack of inhibition leading to oversharing), and possibly the concern that if they stop, they will forget what they were saying (once again, due to poor executive dysfunction causing poor memory).
Often plays with their hair, fidgets with their hands, or bounces their leg(s):
Possible pent-up energy needing to be released, needing to stim to self-soothe, and fidgeting can also aid with concentration and focus.
Tends to take risks, doesn’t “look before they leap”:
Impulsivity and self-awareness (not being able to see the consequences fully) are caused by executive dysfunction, and may also be caused by needing a boost of dopamine.
Symptoms Not in the DSM-5
I’ve also compiled a list of ADHD symptoms that commonly occur outside of the DSM-5 criteria below, with a brief description of how they present:
Hyperfocus (being completely absorbed in a specific task or interest that blocks out the outside world for an extended period of time).
Executive Dysfunction (poor cognitive processing skills resulting in struggles to process new information, resulting in poor working memory, inflexible thinking, and difficulties with impulse control).
Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria, RSD (feelings of extreme sensitivity as a response to real or perceived rejection, criticism, or failure).
Low self-esteem (lacking self-confidence, may contribute to feeling “not good enough” or “broken”.
Substance abuse (using drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc. as a method to seek dopamine or self-medicate).
Disordered eating (binge eating to seek dopamine, forgetting to eat caused by hyperfixation, choice paralysis when making decisions on what to eat, executive dysfunction leading to feeling too overwhelmed to cook).
Imposter syndrome (struggling with feeling “good enough”, feeling like a fraud, unable to take credit for any accomplishments).
Object permanence (“out of sight, out of mind.” Misplacing items that were “just in your hand”, forgetting to call/message people back, buying items you forgot you already had because they were hidden away in a cupboard).
If you are reading through these lists and finding that you identify with many of them, have a read through the links below for additional symptom information. I have also written a blog entry focusing on the different steps towards seeking a self diagnosis as an adult, which you can find here.
Thanks for reading, let me know if you’ve found this helpful!
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