Can Adults Have ADHD?

Young boy holds ADHD text written on sheet of paper

There is a lot of confusing data and information about Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder which presents itself in people by age 12. The information suggests that as people age, many grow out of it while others do not. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about 8.7% of adolescents have ADHD, with nearly 3 times as many males (13.0%) as females diagnosed (4.2%). Meanwhile, the data suggest that 4.4% of adults experience ADHD with the gender gap narrowing significantly (5.4% for adult males versus 3.3% for adult females). About 14 million adults experience Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in the United States, and only 20 percent (3 million) of them seek help for it. Many consider ADHD a diagnosis for children and they are correct that the symptoms are present in childhood; however, there are many adults that were never diagnosed as children and continue to face the challenges of ADHD as adults.


There do tend to be some differences. For one, the overall adult rate of ADHD is about half the rate of childhood ADHD, indicating many grow out of it or learn to adapt in such a way that the disorder no longer impairs their functioning and quality of life. The severity of ADHD tends to decline with age, which may indicate that people learn to adapt on their own as they age, though for some, their responses to ADHD are maladaptive and they tend to display more antisocial behavior as an adult. Hyperactivity also tends to decline with age; where many children tend to wander, climb, squirm, and move around at inappropriate times, most adults with ADHD don’t act on these behaviors and tend to display more fidgetiness, inner feelings of restlessness, or impatience instead. Difficulties with inattention, poor planning, impulsivity, and restlessness tend to persist into adulthood.

Another major difference between child and adult ADHD is that adults have different responsibilities than children which can make navigating ADHD more challenging. Behaviors of inattention and hyperactivity have more severe consequences in adult relationships and the workplace than they do in childhood relationships and school. When we don’t pay attention in school and do poorly, the consequences of a poor grade are less likely to affect livelihood than missing important information at work and being dismissed. The inattentive as well as hyperactive/impulsive features of ADHD also increase the risk of being in a car crash, as well as the risk of developing issues with addiction. These are dangers that are not as prevalent to children.


There is no known cause of ADHD. The present information is unclear and new studies are working on trying to further understand ADHD every year. The strongest argument is genetics, but there are some links to possible environmental causes during development. Additionally, there are arguments that ADHD represents normal diversity in our brain chemistry, just as we humans have diversity in hair color, body-types, and athletic abilities. Others suggest that there are cultural factors at play, which is why so many more boys are diagnosed compared to girls and reasons to why the gender gap decreases significantly with age.


There can be a lot of reasons that a child growing up goes undiagnosed. One issue that comes up is awareness. The modern understanding and definition of ADHD is relatively new. Although documentation suggests that pediatricians had noticed symptoms of ADHD as early as the 1900s, it didn’t gain public awareness until the 1980s when it was called attention deficit disorder (ADD). Once a diagnosis was in the public health consciousness, diagnoses among kids began to climb as doctors, mental health professionals, teachers, and parents were now able to recognize the symptoms and diagnose the condition. Most of today’s adults did not have the opportunity that children have today regarding mental health.

Other barriers to diagnosis come with the difficulty of assessing normal developmental challenges for children versus ADHD. Is a disorganized child who refuses to do homework improperly motivated or struggling with a mental health issue? Is a spacey, wandering child just marching to the beat of their own drum, or dealing with something else? These are difficult questions to answer and given that half of children diagnosed with ADHD will grow out of it, sometimes it may feel like a better option to caretakers to let kids be and see what happens.


There are two main categories of symptoms, or characteristics in ADHD: inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity. The characteristics of adults with ADHD tend to impair performance at work and in interpersonal relationships. People with ADHD tend to have challenges with work, sustaining energy for tasks at work, doing mundane tasks, applying for jobs, attendance, and have higher rates of unemployment compared to the rest of the population. Difficulties with sustaining attention, hyperactivity or impulsivity tend to make it difficult for people with ADHD to attentively listen in conversations, wait their turn, or plan out their actions.

Inattentive Symptoms

  • Difficulty with paying close attention to details; tends to make careless mistakes
  • Easily distracted, both by external stimuli and one’s own thoughts, often daydreaming
  • Poor follow-through; difficulty sustaining attention in tasks
  • Difficulty with organization; tends to be messy, miss deadlines, and has poor time management
  • Forgetfulness in daily activities; often loses things
  • Difficulty in listening to others
  • Avoidance, dislike, or reluctance to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort; often leads to procrastination

Hyperactive/Impulsive Symptoms

  • Frequent fidgeting, tapping, or squirming while seated; extreme difficulty sitting still
  • Restlessness; acts as if being driven by a motor
  • Tends to be noisy; difficulty engaging in leisure activities quietly
  • Talks excessively, interrupts others, difficulty waiting their turn
  • Often leaves seat or place in situations where remaining still is expected
  • Acts without thinking of consequences; impulsive

Can Therapy Help with ADHD?

Yes, it can. Therapy can help in a variety of ways including using techniques to increase attention span and reduce impulsivity. Therapy can be helpful in learning skills that do not come naturally and identifying unhelpful reactions. Counseling can also be used to treat anxiety, depression, or substance use which many people with ADHD also experience. Nutritional counseling can also be important to help treat symptoms.

Do I Need Insurance for ADHD Therapy?

No. In fact, at Mindful Healing Portland, LLC, we accept clients on a sliding scale. We are currently accepting clients for our sliding scale rates.


If you live in Portland or near the Portland area and want information or help with ADHD,