Adult ADHD Diagnosis: Symptoms, Criteria, and What to Do Next (2023)

You think you might have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but you’re not sure. After all, you’re an adult. Isn’t that a children’s condition?

Still, the constant fidgeting, the difficulty focusing on one task, the restlessness… it has to mean something.

And you might be right. While some of these things don’t mean anything on their own, together they might be signs of adult ADHD. Because, yes, adults can have it too.

ADHD usually develops during childhood. However, it’s not always detected then.

If you have ADHD as an adult (and didn’t know beforehand), you’ve likely had the condition for a while, but it went undiagnosed for some reason.

Maybe your parents didn’t think it was necessary to take you to get a diagnosis, or your symptoms were attributed to other causes.

This isn’t uncommon. Parents and teachers might not always be familiar with ADHD and its symptoms or have access to a mental health professional who can help.

You may be wondering why you’d even want to get a diagnosis at this stage in your life. What good would it do?

“Adults may seek a diagnosis later in life if they notice they are experiencing difficulties with social, academic, or occupational pursuits,” explains Jessica Myszak, PhD, a psychologist and the director of The Help and Healing Center. “They may suspect ADHD if they have tried some things to help, but their inattention or hyperactivity/impulsivity does not seem to improve.”

Getting an ADHD diagnosis as an adult can open you up to a network of treatment options and support opportunities that can help manage symptoms.

“Finding out you have ADHD can be a real ‘light bulb’ moment for many adults,” says Billy Roberts, a therapist and ADHD specialist at Focused Mind ADHD Counseling in Ohio. “[It] can offer an explanation for attention struggles you’ve been experiencing. And once you know what those symptoms are, they can be managed.”

(Video) ADHD diagnoses on the rise in adults, here are the symptoms

“ADHD is one of the most common and treatable mental health conditions,” he adds.

The most accepted criteria for ADHD is established by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th edition). This is a reference handbook that many mental health professionals use to make accurate diagnoses.

To diagnose the condition, a mental health professional will gather information from you, and sometimes those close to you, and compare it to the criteria.

ADHD is characterized by symptoms that show a persistent pattern of inattention, hyperactivity-impulsivity, or both.

According to the DSM-5, to receive a diagnosis of ADHD, your symptoms must be present over a period of time to a degree that they interfere with your work, school, or social life.

But not everyone with ADHD presents the same symptoms or with the same intensity.

That’s why mental health professional keep in mind the main ADHD types:

  • Predominantly inattentive presentation. Inattention symptoms have been present and dominant for at least the past 6 months.
  • Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation. Hyperactivity-impulsivity symptoms have been present and dominant for at least the past 6 months.
  • Combined presentation. Both inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity symptoms have been present for at least the past 6 months.

There’s a list of qualifying symptoms for each type. A diagnosis of adult ADHD requires that at least five symptoms in the list are present for the past 6 months.

Symptoms of inattention include:

  • difficulty paying close attention to details or making careless mistakes
  • trouble keeping your attention on tasks
  • difficulty concentrating on what someone is saying to you
  • trouble organizing your thoughts, notes, or tasks
  • avoiding tasks that require more effort for long periods of time
  • getting distracted easily
  • losing or misplacing things that you need to complete tasks
  • difficulty following instructions all the way through on a task
  • forgetting about daily tasks

Symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity include:

  • difficulty sitting still without moving around
  • fidgeting or squirming while you’re seated
  • feeling restless
  • talking excessively and not always getting to the point
  • interrupting others or inserting yourself into situations
  • shouting out answers too early even without fully understanding the question
  • feeling like you’re constantly on the go and unable to stop or slow down
  • difficulty waiting in line for your turn to get something you want
  • difficulty relaxing or enjoying leisure activities quietly

Lack of impulse control is also a key symptom of some types of ADHD.

These symptoms must be present often and across situations for a mental health professional to consider them symptoms of ADHD.

“An adult with ADHD might experience racing thoughts, restlessness and trouble relaxing, procrastination, and chronic underperformance at work,” Roberts explains.

There are no diagnostic tests or laboratory exams that can be used to formally diagnose ADHD.

Instead, there are multiple tools that a mental health professional can use to detect the condition.

Only a mental health professional can diagnose ADHD. However, you can also work on identifying some of your symptoms by taking Psych Central’s online ADHD test.

Professionals usually diagnose adult ADHD in the following ways:

A one-on-one session

This is the first step toward an ADHD diagnosis.

A mental health professional will talk with you over one or more sessions. These sessions can last at least 1 hour.

In these sessions, you’ll be able to express your concerns and feelings about some of your behaviors.

A professional might also ask you to fill out questionnaires or ask you questions that aim to rate how often you experience specific symptoms of ADHD and how distressing they are to your life.

Family sessions

Sessions with family members and teachers are common when diagnosing a child with ADHD.

They’re also a valuable tool for diagnosing adult ADHD.

While you may have a better understanding of what you’re going through now, it may be hard to recall or recollect examples from your childhood.

Remember that ADHD develops during childhood. To receive a diagnosis, a professional will want to establish if you showed any symptoms before the age of 12.

If possible, they’ll want to talk with those who knew you during your first few years of life.

The questions in these sessions might be similar to what you were asked in your own interview. These additional responses can help paint a clearer picture of your early symptoms.

Standardized behavior rating scales

A standardized behavior scale scores your responses to give you an overall rating.

(Video) ADHD in Adulthood: The Signs You Need to Know

There are several ADHD rating scales available. They can differ based on the age or needs of the person being tested.

An added benefit from this type of testing is that you can get retested during your treatment to see if you’re making improvements or if your rating stays the same.

Medical evaluation or screening

A medical evaluation or mental health screening will rule out any other explanations for the symptoms you’re experiencing.

Because of the broad nature of ADHD symptoms, it’s possible that something else could be causing your symptoms.

For example, a regular physical exam can help reveal an underlying condition, such as a thyroid problem or seizure disorder, which could also cause you to exhibit symptoms similar to those of ADHD.

You will also undergo a broad mental health screening to see whether you’re living with symptoms of depression, anxiety, or a learning disability.

(Video) ADHD Diagnosis Criteria Explained

An adult ADHD diagnosis is typically made by a psychologist, psychiatrist, or a physician.

“It’s important that this person has a specialty of some kind in ADHD,” Roberts says. “Diagnosing ADHD is a nuanced process, as ADHD can look like many other conditions.”

Meeting with a mental health professional to screen for ADHD symptoms might overwhelm you, especially if it’s your first time.

“Individuals can prepare for an evaluation by thinking about how their symptoms have caused difficulties for them and how these may have shown up earlier in life,” Myszak says. “At times, the information requested may seem irrelevant or may be embarrassing to share. However, the psychologist likely has a good reason to ask these things, so be as honest and open as possible.”

Providing accurate information to your healthcare team can help them make an accurate diagnosis.

(Video) Diagnosis of ADHD with the DSM 5 TR | Symptoms and Diagnosis

“It’s common for adults with ADHD to underreport their symptoms when being diagnosed,” Roberts explains. “It’s important not to keep anything a secret when being assessed.”

Only a health professional who is familiar with ADHD can make an accurate diagnosis.

Online tests may help you identify some of your symptoms, which in turn can help your health professional reach a diagnosis.

Scoring particularly high or low on an ADHD online test should not be treated as a final diagnosis.

A specialist might also be able to provide online sessions to start the diagnostic process.

“Currently, it might be necessary to get an evaluation online rather than in person,” Roberts says. “While this is a possible medium for diagnosis, it’s important to make sure the person is licensed and plans on taking the appropriate amount of time to diagnose. Most ADHD testing takes at least a couple of hours.”

Deciding to take the first steps to address your ADHD symptoms and reaching out for help takes a lot of courage.

Adult ADHD is a treatable condition. Seeking the help of a professional can make a difference in your life.

Here are some tips you might want to consider:

  • Look for a mental health professional in your area. The American Psychological Association Psychologist Locator can help.
  • Check out organizations like CHADD that might offer tips for living with ADHD.
  • Look into approved accommodations that can help you succeed at work or in higher education.
  • Discuss your ADHD diagnosis with your friends and family, how it affects your life, and what they can do to help.
  • Consider an ADHD coach if you think you’ll need extra support. These specialized coaches can help you manage your symptoms and create a unique plan to help address your specific needs.

“ADHD can be a superpower,” Roberts says. “Many famous and highly successful people have ADHD. The cure is in knowing how to channel each symptom to your benefit and knowing how to work around the frustrating parts of ADHD.”


What do they do when you get diagnosed with ADHD? ›

The assessment may include:
  • a physical examination, which can help rule out other possible causes for the symptoms.
  • a series of interviews with you or your child.
  • interviews or reports from other significant people, such as partners, parents and teachers.

How do adults get formally diagnosed with ADHD? ›

Ask your personal physician for a referral to a health care professional in your community who is qualified to perform ADHD evaluations for adults. It may also be helpful to call a local university-based hospital, a medical school or a graduate school in psychology for recommendations.

What is the coping mechanism for ADHD adults? ›

Set a regular time and place for sorting boring things like bills. Put it in your diary/schedule and make sure you stick to it. Break big tasks down into manageable steps, making sure they're realistic and give yourself deadlines for these tasks.

What happens after ADHD assessment? ›

After diagnosis, your psychiatrist will discuss the recommended treatment. Your psychiatrist will write a letter to your GP after seeing you, as any other doctor would do. If there is any information you do not want your psychiatrist to include in this letter, please tell them during the appointment.

How life changed after ADHD diagnosis? ›

With treatment, work can become more manageable

Many adults seek medication or therapy for their ADHD, which can help boost productivity in the workplace. Improved concentration means being better able to meet deadlines, focus at company meetings, and get more work done in time for deadlines.

How do psychologists test for ADHD in adults? ›

Unfortunately, there are no lab tests that can accurately determine whether you have ADHD. Instead, you must undergo a neuropsychological evaluation to determine whether it is indeed the cause of your struggles. Once an accurate diagnosis is received, you can begin to pursue treatment.

How long does ADHD testing take for adults? ›

Though it varies, a typical assessment for ADHD in children or adults may last around one to three hours. Every practitioner conducts the assessment in their own way, but you can expect an in-person interview covering topics such as development, health, family, and lifestyle history.

How long does it take to get diagnosed with ADHD in adults? ›

The assessment is with a specialist neurobehavioral psychiatrist and normally takes 1 - 3 hours and will look at your whole life's experience of ADHD symptoms, back from when you were a child and at school, but also how your symptoms currently affect you in your day to day life now.

Does caffeine help ADHD? ›

Answer: Using caffeine, either in a drink or in an over-the-counter preparation, is not recommended by medical experts as a treatment for ADHD. Although some studies have shown that caffeine may improve concentration in adults with ADHD, it is not as effective as medication.

What are the best interventions for ADHD adults? ›

Standard treatments for ADHD in adults typically involve medication, education, skills training and psychological counseling. A combination of these is often the most effective treatment. These treatments can help manage many symptoms of ADHD , but they don't cure it.

What are the 3 Rs of ADHD? ›

Reading, writing, arithmetic. They're the core of the grade-school curriculum – but often the bane of a child with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD). Your child's teacher may not have the patience or expertise to offer your child tips to master these subjects in ways that work best for her.

What is the gold standard for ADHD? ›

The gold-standard diagnostic procedure for ADHD is an interview and physical exam to identify ADHD symptoms and other potential mental and physical health conditions.

How long should an ADHD evaluation take? ›

How long does an ADHD evaluation take? You can expect the ADHD test to take at least one to three hours, depending on what's involved (and the age of your child, if you have one). A full evaluation usually takes longer since your provider needs to gather information from multiple sources.

How do I prepare for an ADHD evaluation? ›

Tips to Prepare for an Adult ADHD Assessment
  1. Eat a good nutrient-dense meal beforehand.
  2. Ensure you have plenty of rest before your assessment.
  3. Don't schedule your assessment on a busy day where you will feel rushed or hurried between appointments.
  4. Bring a water bottle.
Nov 30, 2022

Why are so many adults being diagnosed with ADHD? ›

One of the most common ways adult ADHD is diagnosed is that parents sit in on their children's evaluations and realize they experience some of the same challenges, they've just never had a label for it, says Dr. Dixon.

What lifelong problems do people with ADHD have? ›

Without treatment, ADHD can potentially lead to a number of long-term complications. These complications may include: Poor self-esteem. Depression and anxiety.

What is life like with untreated ADHD? ›

Untreated ADHD in adults can lead to mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. This is because ADHD symptoms can lead to focus, concentration, and impulsivity problems. When these problems are not managed effectively, they can lead to feelings of frustration, irritability, and low self-esteem.

What is the best diagnostic test for ADHD in adults? ›

Two commonly-used tools in the diagnosis of adult ADHD are the T.O.V.A and the ASRS-v1. 1. The T.O.V.A is an electronic screening test that patients take on a computer.

What is the most accurate ADHD test? ›

The Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale Screener (ASRS) is one of the most commonly used self-assessment tools for adult ADHD. The ASRS was developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Workgroup on Adult ADHD. This tool is meant to be used with people 18 and over and assesses for the most common symptoms of ADHD.

What are the signs of ADHD in female adults? ›

Adult ADHD symptoms may include:
  • Impulsiveness.
  • Disorganization and problems prioritizing.
  • Poor time management skills.
  • Problems focusing on a task.
  • Trouble multitasking.
  • Excessive activity or restlessness.
  • Poor planning.
  • Low frustration tolerance.
Jan 25, 2023

What questions do they ask in an ADHD test? ›

  • How often do you have trouble wrapping up the final details of a project, once the challenging parts have been done? ...
  • How often do you have difficulty getting things in order when you have to do a task that requires organization? ...
  • How often do you have problems remembering appointments or obligations?

How often is ADHD misdiagnosed in adults? ›

But that didn't stop the researchers from claiming misleadingly that ADHD is very common in adults. A meta-analysis reviewing the available literature gives an upper limit of 2.5% rate and also points out that there are vast differences in the quality and methods used across studies.

How many signs do you need to be diagnosed with ADHD? ›

To be diagnosed with ADHD, symptoms must have been present before the age of 12. Children up to age 16 are diagnosed with ADHD if they have had at least six persistent symptoms of inattention and/or six persistent symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity present for at least 6 months.

Do ADHD adults know they have ADHD? ›

Some adults who have ADHD don't know they have it. These adults may feel it is impossible to get organized, stick to a job, or remember to keep appointments.

What jobs are best for someone with ADHD? ›

If you're someone with ADHD who's looking to harness their energy into a career, consider these jobs:
  • athlete.
  • sports coach.
  • emergency responder (firefighter, EMT)
  • ER doctor or nurse.
  • police officer.
  • emergency dispatcher.
  • retail worker.
  • daycare provider.
Mar 31, 2022

Why does Coca Cola help with ADHD? ›

Caffeine — in a travel mug, Hershey wrapper, or mid-day Coke — is a natural stimulant that boosts dopamine production in the brain. This helps to explain why so many adults with ADHD say they couldn't live without it.

What foods are good for ADHD brain? ›

Foods rich in protein — lean beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, soy, and low-fat dairy products — can have beneficial effects on ADHD symptoms. Protein-rich foods are used by the body to make neurotransmitters, the chemicals released by brain cells to communicate with each other.

What is the safest ADHD medication for adults? ›

ADHD specialists recommend methylphenidates as the first-choice medication for treating children and adolescents, and amphetamines as the first-choice medication for adults.

What is the most common ADHD medication for adults? ›

Methylphenidate. Methylphenidate is the most commonly used medicine for ADHD. It belongs to a group of medicines called stimulants, which work by increasing activity in the brain, particularly in areas that play a part in controlling attention and behaviour.

What are alternative ADHD treatment options adults? ›

Alternative treatments for ADHD include elimination diets, omega-3 supplements, parent training, exercise, yoga, meditation, neurofeedback, and memory training.

What are the 4 C's of ADHD? ›

Create. Compete. Complete. CAPTIVATE Find things that captivate your attention.

What is Type 5 ADHD? ›

Type 5: Limbic ADD

Symptoms: primary ADD symptoms plus chronic mild sadness, negativity, low energy, low self-esteem, irritability, social isolation, and poor appetite and sleep patterns. Stimulants, by themselves, usually cause problems with rebound or cause depressive symptoms.

What is the most common ADHD intervention? ›

Stimulants are the best-known and most widely used ADHD medications. Between 70-80% of children with ADHD have fewer ADHD symptoms when taking these fast-acting medications.

Is ADHD considered to be a disability? ›

Is ADHD considered a disability? Yes, ADHD is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504). There are several types of disabilities, including but not limited to: learning disability.

What evidence is needed for ADHD diagnosis? ›

According to the latest DSM-V guidelines, in order to be diagnosed with ADHD, a patient has to have shown at least six of the nine symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactivity/impulsivity prior to age 12. In addition, these symptoms must impair the person's functioning in more than one setting — home, school, or work.

What do doctors look for when testing for ADHD? ›

Some of the specific assessments that may be used when testing for ADHD include: Behavior Assessment System for Children (BASC): Looks for symptoms related to aggression, hyperactivity, conduct issues, attention problems, learning issues, anxiety, and depression.

Do adults with ADHD get benefits? ›

Funding and benefits - ADHD Embrace. ADHD is recognised as a condition which qualifies for disability benefits and funding.

What jobs suit someone with ADHD? ›

Fast-paced jobs that may be a good fit if you have ADHD:
  • emergency responder (firefighter, EMT)
  • retail worker.
  • service employee.
  • journalist.
  • teacher.
  • athlete.
Mar 31, 2022

Can you get SSI for ADHD adults? ›

In past decades, adults with ADHD were ineligible to receive disability benefits. Fortunately, today, adults with ADHD symptoms that are considered disabling by the Social Security Administration (SSA) may be eligible to receive benefits from the federal government.


1. DSM-5 and Diagnostic Criteria for ADHD
(Psych Congress Network)
2. ADHD - Diagnosis
(Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership NHS Trust)
3. Understanding Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
(Rhesus Medicine)
4. Recognizing ADHD in Adults | Heather Brannon | TEDxHeritageGreen
(TEDx Talks)
5. How to Get an Accurate ADHD Diagnosis
(ADDitude Magazine)
6. 10 Common ADHD Symptoms in Adults (with real-life examples)
(The Mini ADHD Coach)
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