Everyone has trouble sitting still sometimes, or managing time, or completing a task. However, the behavior of people with adult ADHD goes beyond occasional fidgeting, disorganization, and procrastination. For them, performing tasks can be so difficult that it interferes with their ability to function at work, at home, at school, and socially.
A diagnostic manual compiled by the American Psychiatric Association identifies three types of ADHD:
A person with inattentive adult ADHD, previously known as attention deficit disorder (ADD), has trouble focusing on activities, organizing and finishing tasks, and following instructions.
Hyperactive and impulsive adults feel restless, are constantly "on the go," and try to perform multiple tasks at once. They are often perceived as not thinking before they act or speak.
Individuals with the combined form of adult ADHD show symptoms of both inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity.
The first studies on adults who were never diagnosed as children with ADHD but showed symptoms as adults were done in the late 1970s by Drs. Paul Wender, Frederick Reimherr, and David Wood. These symptomatic adults were retrospectively diagnosed with ADHD after the researchers' interviews with their parents.
The researchers developed clinical criteria for diagnosing ADHD in adults (the Utah Criteria), which combined past history of ADHD with current evidence of ADHD behaviors.
Other diagnostic assessments for adult ADHD are now available; among them are the widely used Conners Rating Scale and the Brown Attention Deficit Disorder Scale.
Typically, adults with ADHD are unaware that they have this disorder -- they often just feel that it's impossible to get organized, stick to a job, or keep an appointment. The everyday tasks of getting up, getting dressed and ready for the day's work, getting to work on time, and being productive on the job can be major challenges for someone with ADHD.