ADHD: The Different Symptoms for Adults and Children

25th October 2021

In recent months I’ve started the process of being assessed for ADHD as an adult.

This is something I NEVER thought I would write, but that’s because I had no clue what it really looks like.

The media and society have stereotyped it as something young boys have who can’t sit still.

How could I have that? I’m a woman who is the opposite of hyperactive; I am as lazy as they come!

But ADHD is not just this. It’s different for boys, girls, and also adults.

It’s been an eye-opener to explore how the condition presents, and it’s been a shock to find how few people know what it really is.

it’s ADHD Awareness Month this month, so I thought it even more important to talk about this.

So I’ve decided to create a more accurate representation of the condition, by talking about it on my Mind Vox podcast, and here.

If you have had any experience of this condition, please add your views and wisdom in the comment section below.

What is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a chemical problem in the management systems of the brain (neurodivergence).

It’s a developmental disorder that is believed to first appear in childhood and can continue through adulthood.

Scientists aren’t fully sure what causes ADHD. It’s thought to be a combination of genetics, environment and how each brain is wired.

There’s even an idea that during the developmental stages of childhood a problem can happen with the central nervous system that can create it.

You’re at increased risk of having ADHD if you have relatives with it, your mother smoked, drank alcohol or used drugs during pregnancy, if you were exposed to toxins like lead as a child or you were born prematurely.

It can affect people of all levels of intelligence, and other conditions like mood and anxiety disorders, OCD, autism, ODD and learning disabilities can coexist with it.

A person with this condition is apparently 6 times more likely to have other mental health conditions or learning difficulties.

Black background with the word ADHD in gold and some graphics around it

How it Presents

It can often go unrecognised for people throughout their childhood, if they don’t have the stereotypical symptoms.

As an adult, life can get tougher, with more responsibilities, jobs, households and children which can affect the condition’s symptoms that might have gone unnoticed before.

Some specialists say the way in which inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness affect adults can be very different from the way they affect children.

For example, hyperactivity tends to decrease in adults, while inattentiveness tends to get worse as the pressures of adult life increase.

Adult symptoms of ADHD also tend to be far more subtle than childhood symptoms.

Many girls and women in particular are thought to live their lives undiagnosed, instead being commonly diagnosed with depression and anxiety.

Some kids almost grow out of it, where symptoms reduce significantly, while with others it can get worse as they get older.

ADHD in children can look very different to how it presents in adults, and it’s also different between the genders.

Symptoms for Children

Girls symptoms are more likely to be overlooked and thought of as personality traits rather than a condition, and it seems much easier to identify in boys generally.

Girls

It’s been found that girls are more likely to have inattentive ADHD, which can involve daydreaming and shyness.

Girls are good at masking, which is something that involves hiding the symptoms in order to fit in.

They don’t know they’re masking, and whilst it then enables them to appear to function like neurotypicals, it’s quite exhausting to do for long periods.

If they daydream in school, they may compensate by hyper-focusing on something they are good at. It can be a coping strategy to keep her entertained when something is boring or to ease anxiety.

She might be a tomboy and the hyperactivity may not be running around, it may instead be doodling constantly or moving around on her chair and fidgeting.

Being hyper-talkative is another symptom, as well as interrupting others, changing topics a lit and blurting things out in blunt or rude ways.

The main symptoms for girls are:

Girl turned to the side looking downwards with a book in her hand. Forest background.
  • Appears withdrawn
  • Cries easily 
  • Daydreaming and in a world of her own 
  • Difficulty maintaining focus; easily distracted 
  • Disorganized and messy (in her appearance and physical space)
  • Doesn’t appear to be trying 
  • Doesn’t seem motivated
  • Forgetful 
  • Highly sensitive to noise, fabrics, and emotions
  • Hyper-talkative (always has lots to say, but is not good at listening)
  • Hyperreactivity (exaggerated emotional responses)
  • Looks to be making “careless” mistakes
  • Might often slam her doors shut 
  • Often late (poor time management) 
  • Problems completing tasks 
  • Seems shy
  • Seems to get easily upset 
  • Shifting focus from one activity to another
  • Takes time to process information and directions; seems like she doesn’t hear you
  • Verbally impulsive; blurts out and interrupts others

Boys

Boys are more likely to be diagnosed, because they tend to have more obvious symptoms.

This isn’t the case for all boys though, as some can mask until their hormones start to emerge in teenage years, or even until adulthood.

The main symptoms for boys are:

  • Running and shouting when playing, even indoors
  • Playing too roughly
  • Hyperactive behaviour
  • Bumping into people and things
  • Impulsive behaviour
  • Constantly moving even when seated
Two boys jumping into the sea.

Why Get Diagnosed as an Adult?

How would it benefit you to be diagnosed as an adult?

This is the question I was recently asked, which I talked about on World Mental Health Day, as I couldn’t believe it!

To know you have a condition like this can give relief and understanding of why you do what you do.

It can give hope that the behaviours you find hard can be worked on with strategies, therapies and support.

By having a diagnosis it can also help the person realise they’re not to blame and their behaviours are nothing to do with personality or having a ‘poor character’.

Symptoms for Adults

The condition can present very differently in adults, which can include:

Lack of Focus

This can involve not finishing tasks/projects, finding it hard to listen to others during long conversations, and getting distracted easily.

Hyperfocus

The complete opposite of the first symptom!

This can be a mechanism people use to cope with their ADHD by focussing on one thing so much, but it stops you being aware of time, other things you need to do and people around you.

Time Management Issues

ADHD can cause procrastination, which can then cause lateness or things being completely forgotten.

Deadlines can be missed, entire appointments can be cancelled due to not showing up and more.

Forgetfulness

The brain can get so busy and overwhelmed that many things can be forgotten, like tasks, appointments, what people have said and even where you have placed things.

Disorganisation

It can be difficult to manage and prioritise what needs to be done, such as chores, work and life tasks.

An artistic image of a side profile head with a mixture of swirling colours across it.

Emotions

Conditions such as depression and anxiety can be symptoms of ADHD, which affect emotions hugely.

It can be overwhelming to try to do most basic tasks for this condition, which in turn affects emotions.

Mood swings, being irritable and having an explosive temper are common symptoms.

Finding it hard to take criticism is also a key area.

Impulsivity

This isn’t just going and booking a holiday without research- It can be rushing tasks and acting without thinking of the consequences.

it’s also interrupting other during chats, being socially inappropriate and even impulse buying.

Getting cross or struggling not to show anger in areas most don’t get irritated, such as queues or traffic jams is impulsive too.

Negative Self-Image

Being overly critical of yourself and having high expectations of yourself are classic for this.

This can also be taking it personal when you get something wrong, such as a question on a test. Rather than realising we can’t get everything right, we challenge our entire personality and abilities.

Restlessness/ Anxiety

Having a brain that never quietens down, and is constantly racing can affect the body too.

It can cause a lack of patience, wanting to get things done as soon as possible to remove that task from your headspace.

This can cause the body to fidget often, when seated or standing. This can be finger or foot tapping, shifting about in your seat, or pacing.

Talking excessively and at high speed is also within this category.

Yellow bugs and the word ADHD as a repeated pattern on a green background.

Demotivation

Do you struggle to see tasks through to the end?

Getting bored during a task is common, so it can then become difficult to complete as distraction can occur.

The racing thoughts can cause the brain to get exhausted, which in turn tires the body and demotivates the person from wanting to continue a task.

Exhaustion

Trying to mask or reduce the symptoms is tiring.

The hyperactive brain literally tires the body out, which can cause insomnia and sleep issues too.

Physical Health

Compulsive eating or hardly eating at all occur often.

Forgetfulness can also occur when needing to take medication, attend health appointments or complete an exercise regime.

Substance Misuse / Addiction

It can be common for people with this condition to want to self-medicate, especially if they dont know they have ADHD.

This can be in the form of using substance, alcohol or nicotine excessively to calm the head.

Affecting Relationships

All of the above symptoms can make it hard for people when trying to have a relationship.

This can be a partner, family or friends, who can struggle to cope or understand the ADHD.

It’s common for people with this condition to talk over people and to say blunt or rude things, which comes across as insensitive and cold.

Some of the symptoms can mean people are receiving irritability, angry outbursts, somebody who isn’t listening to them, interrupting them and even someone who forgets to stay in touch. This can take it’s toll and damage the relationship.

Sarah Harding

Sarah Harding from girl band Girls Aloud, recently passed away sadly due to cancer.

She grew up with a diagnosis of ADHD, and moved around 7 schools, which she felt was because she was not easy to manage.

In a previous interview with Cosmopolitan Magazine (2010), said;

“I have multiple personalities. I’m either very quiet or very talkative. I had ADHD as a kid, which I think has carried through. I’m very hyper, I’ve got a low attention span, I’m a control freak and I definitely have a bit of OCD, too.”Sarah harding, singer

In other interviews Sarah said she didn’t start taking ADHD medication until her Girls Aloud days when she began struggle with “the pressures of fame”.

The press referred to her as Hardcore Harding, because she was confident, loud and took risks.

She described herself as a diva prone to the odd tantrum, who would mask her symptoms by being loud and confident. Instead, the ADHD showed in her actually being shy, socially awkward and wanting to please others.

Sarah had a history of addiction, battling prescription drug and alcohol abuse, and went to rehab more than once.

Pets were a large part of her self care. She sometimes suffered from panic attacks from spending long periods of time at her isolated country home. During a new interview with Hello! magazine, she admitted ADHD affected her mood while manifesting in physical ways that caused her to feel dizzy and unable to breathe properly.

A blue background with the shape of a head in black with hundreds of words written over it and a large question mark.

Support

Children can be assessed for this condition by going to the GP and being referred to appropriate services.

This can be the same for adults, but waiting lists can be much higher, which I wonder could be down to less budget allocated to adult assessments, or because we’re now finding more out about the condition so people are coming forward for assessment?

With this in mind, the Right To Choose project (see link below) enables adults to ask their GP to refer them for the grant so they can be assessed privately by Psychiatry UK for free.

Once diagnosed, there are many ways that the condition can be supported:

  • Therapies such as CBT, Behavioural Coaching and Counselling
  • Self-help groups
  • Medication
  • Self-help books
  • Getting regular sleep
  • Exercising vigorously (to get rid of excess aggression and energy)
  • Mindfulness practice
  • Having a pet (can be soothing and a focus)
  • Learning strategies to help with getting tasks done and reducing forgetfulness

Above all, it is also key to not blame yourself for these symptoms.

Blame biology, not yourself.

You cannot control how you were born or how you’re brain is wired.

Knowing this can help reduce low self-worth and belief.

Links

Here are a list of the sources used to research this post:

Right To Choose– Adult ADHD Assessment Funding (UK)

Very Well Mind– ADHD in Girls.

Mayo Clinic– ADHD Symptoms

Help Guide– ADHD in Adults.

NHS– Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Healthline– ADHD Adult Treatment.

Sarah Harding information:

The Mirror

Daily Star

Press Party

Irish Times

Mind Vox Pod

To link with this blog post, I’ve talked openly about ADHD on my podcast, Mind Vox this week.

I talk about my experiences of being assessed as an adult, and my co-host Kathryn talks about how ADHD affects her 11-year-old daughter, and husband.

The Mind Vox Pod logo, which is cream background a light green circle with an outline of a head on it.

No payment was received for this post. All opinions are honest and my own, and all research mentioned was accredited in the links section.

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