“It’s like having 30 webpages open in your head.”
That’s how psychiatrist Carlo Banaag, M.D., describes what it’s like inside the head of an adult with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD.
Studies show that 65% of those diagnosed with ADHD as children will continue to experience it into adulthood.
Dr. Banaag, who spoke during the “Braving Adult ADHD during the celebration of the 18th ADHD Awareness Week” last October 2021, said, “[The symptoms are] still there [when the child grows up] but it’s just presenting differently, depending on the person’s circumstances.”
Citing an example, Dr. Banaag says an adult with ADHD who is single and unattached may find it easier to cope with the symptoms than a parent because the latter may have more responsibilities.
Differences of ADHD symptoms between child and adult
Adults with ADHD tend to be forgetful, disorganized, procrastinators, inattentive or distracted. People who don’t know them will be quick to label them as smart but lazy or erratic, says Dr. Banaag. But he points out that when such symptoms manifest, “it is more of a performance problem rather than a knowledge problem.”
The ADHD brain has lower activation of dopamine or norepinephrine, he explains. Dopamine, also called the “happy hormone,” is responsible for feelings of well-being and pleasure. It helps us focus, strive, and plan, among others.
Norepinephrine, also called the “stress hormone,” is responsible for our fight or flight response. You could say this hormone is the reason people with ADHD tend to be called classic procrastinators “because they are waiting for their brains to activate,” explains Dr. Banaag.
Often, adults diagnosed with ADHD will manifest several symptoms under the following criteria: Inattention, Hyperactivity, and Impulsivity. Under each will be behaviors like:
- Failing to pay attention
- Does not seem to listen
- Avoids tasks requiring sustained mental effort, easily distracted
- Fidgets or squirms
- Runs about and climbs excessively
- Talks excessively
- Interrupts or intrudes others
Diagnosing the subtype a person with ADHD belongs to is often determined by a mental health professional. “The disorder is prevalent in all age groups,” says Dr. Banaag.
A child with ADHD will still experience his symptoms as he grows, but these will manifest differently developmentally. For example, if he is hyperactive, aggressive, or has low frustration tolerance as a child, he can grow up inattentive, impatient, and restless. In addition, it makes it more challenging for them to cope in a social setting or in stressful situations than those without the disorder.
More specifically, the challenges among adults are in the executive functions, among these are:
- Organizing, prioritizing, and activating to work
- Focusing and shifting attention to tasks
- Regulating alertness and sustaining effort
- Managing frustration and emotions
- Utilizing working memory or accessing recall
- Monitoring and self-regulating action
Despite the challenges, many people with ADHD live, work and thrive like any typical person. Dr. Banaag is a great example — he has Adult ADHD. “It’s not true that they can never focus,” he says. (Celebrity mom Saab Magalona told SmartParenting.com.ph that she was diagnosed with Adult ADHD.)
Adults with ADHD are the people you want to be with during brainstorming — they function well when a task is right in front of them. The doctor says people with the diagnosis have “to naturally like what they are doing,” and they will perform just as well or even better than the next person.
Coping strategies for adults with ADHD
ADHD is “highly treatable and [when managed with] medicine has an 80% success rate.” There are several practical strategies adults with ADHD can apply to cope better with everyday tasks. Dr. Banaag shares the following:
- To focus, write things down and get short breaks in between tasks.
- Have a “fidget tool” such as chewing gum, silly putty, or stress balls to control fidgeting.
- To recall important tasks, put relevant information in calendars, planners, or apps or use old-fashioned sticky notes.
- Note your take-home pay and subtract monthly expenses (rent, electricity, cable, etc.) when managing a budget. Automate payments as much as possible; when going out, bring minimal cash to avoid impulsive buying.
- To be more organized, categorize items (i.e., recycle, reuse), set a timer for the task, and utilize containers, baskets, drawers to keep things.
- To regulate emotions, anticipate stressors, and practice self-regulatio n when stress is unavoidable, such as doing deep-breathing exercises and pausing and naming your feelings.
- Complement these strategies with a healthy lifestyle such as a balanced diet and good sleep. Dr. Banaag adds having a long-term life coach well-versed in the condition can be very helpful.
In the end, recognizing one’s nature is essential, says Dr. Banaag. “When you know better that’s a chance to do better.”