Step-by-step guide for an adult ADHD diagnosis
While the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) typically start in early childhood, it is possible for ADHD to go undiagnosed and become problematic in adulthood.
This is commonly seen when someone starts university or employment, and the symptoms of ADHD impede upon their functioning. As people with ADHD don’t have problems in IQ, hence are able to function relatively well in school, the increasing need to be focused and organised in adulthood can prevent them from fulfilling their potential.
If you are experiencing symptoms of ADHD in adulthood, there are steps that you can take to get a diagnosis and treatment, so that it doesn’t affect your ability to function in your day-to-day life.
Understand the symptoms
Some common symptoms of ADHD in adults include the following:
- Struggling with organisation and managing responsibilities
- Difficulties in prioritising tasks
- Procrastinating and finding it difficult to finish tasks and keep to deadlines
- Struggling to focus in busy or noisy environments or for a long time
- Being forgetful and struggling with your short term memory
- Losing keys, wallet, work papers and forgetting appointments
- Being restless and finding it difficult to relax
- Having difficulties listening, and speaking out of turn in conversations
- Experiencing mood swings, irritability and extreme impatience
- Struggling to cope with stress
- Taking risks and having a reduced sense of danger
While most adults will experience some of these symptoms from time-to-time, when these are persistent, impacting on your day-to-day life and are something you’ve experienced since childhood, this could be a sign of ADHD.
Visit your GP
The first step you should take is to book an appointment with your GP. Discuss how you are feeling, the symptoms you are experiencing and the impact that they are having on your life. Your GP will then be able to look into the treatment available within your area.
Speak to a specialist
Your GP may be able to refer you to a private specialist such as a Priory hospital or wellbeing centre for an assessment. If you wish, you can also contact Priory yourself to organise an appointment with one of our accredited ADHD consultants, who specialise in the diagnosis and treatment of adult ADHD.
Receive an assessment
Diagnosing ADHD can be a difficult and lengthy process, so only mental health professionals who are experienced and trained can assess and diagnose the symptoms.
Typically before the assessment, you and a close family member, partner or close friend will be required to fill in a questionnaire. The questionnaire is simple and asks for a rating on certain behaviours at various stages of your life, and in different social circumstances.
The assessment is slightly longer than a routine psychiatric assessment and can take up to two sessions to come to a conclusive diagnosis. It is characterised by a structured clinical interview with an expert, and it is always helpful to have a family member for collateral information, although not essential.
The assessment will focus a lot on your school age, as well as adulthood. It will mainly concentrate on different areas of functioning, and how your symptoms impact on your current life. The structured interview asks for examples of certain types of symptoms, for example, difficulty in organising tasks or meeting deadlines.
Discuss next steps
If you receive an assessment and a positive diagnosis, you will be able to talk about next steps with either your GP or the specialist who provided you with your diagnosis. There are a number of options that are available to you:
- Medication – your specialist will be able to discuss medication options that are available if needed. They will be able to explain how they work, talk about their effects and support you through the process. ADHD has an extremely good evidence of being managed with medical treatment, where the person’s quality of life significantly improves with medical treatment
- CBT – cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is often recommended for adults with ADHD. It can help you to change negative thought patterns, giving you the opportunity to better manage how you think and feel about your ADHD
- Group therapy – this can help people who are struggling to cope with their everyday life. It gives you the opportunity to explore your experiences and emotions in a safe space, and work on developing skills and processes as a group
- Couples and family therapy – this can help people to address adult-specific issues associated with ADHD. It can allow a person and their loved ones to work through their emotions and feelings, so that they can improve communication, build trust and find solutions to help everyone manage family life with ADHD
At Priory, a post-diagnostic package of care can be put together to provide you with the appropriate therapy and medication to help you manage symptoms of ADHD better.
This page was reviewed by Dr Tanushree Sarma, Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Chelmsford, in January 2019, and is scheduled to be reviewed again in January 2021.