Only 1 in 10 U.S. adults thought to have ADHD are diagnosed. Wow, eh? That research is a few years old; the number could be greater now. Exactly how are today’s adults with ADHD discovering that they have it? Let me count the ways.
There’s always the classic method: Their child is diagnosed. Upon learning the symptoms, they say, “Wow, that sounds just like I used to be!” And the spouse says, “What do you mean, used to be?”
But there are endless other predictable and oddball ways the discovery comes to light.
My ADHD Partner Survey asked respondents, “How did you learn your partner might have ADHD?” and offered the options shown in the chart below.
How Did You Learn Your Partner Might Have Adult ADHD?
For most respondents, the media and/or their therapists connected their partner’s behavior to ADHD symptoms. And, they did this five times better than the family doctor.
For a minority of respondents (partners of adults with ADHD), their ADHD partner told them of their childhood or adult diagnosis. Only about 13 percent reported that their ADHD partner is the one who made the potential discovery.
Contrary to widely held myth, advertisements for ADHD medications did not send adults flocking to psychiatrists for a prescription. But I believe they remain an important way to let the public know that ADHD exists.
ADHD Partner Survey Respondents
Explain Their “Light-Bulb” Moments:
• My husband asked our doctor about it years ago but was told, wrongly, “If you can read a book, you are not ADHD.” A therapist said my husband was passive-aggressive. I read an article with a behavior list resembling passive-aggression, but it was for ADHD.
• My boyfriend was super smart but couldn’t read aloud without stammering. He also missed lots of details and ”distorted the facts.” I thought he was dyslexic, but it took years of researching this issue for me to figure out he probably had ADHD.
• As a therapist, I work with schoolchildren, some with neurological problems. I always sensed something neurological was going on with my partner. Then her 20-year-old nephew was diagnosed, with symptoms remarkably similar to hers.
• Our (fourth) couples therapist suggested he be tested, since in her experience, every time a partner said, “My spouse acts just like a teenager” the “teenager” usually had ADHD. Bingo! It didn’t hurt that he was 40 minutes late to our first joint appointment.
• I knew something was wrong and started desperately searching for answers on the web by “Googling” phrases like “Why do I hate my spouse?” Finally, I learned about ADHD, and boy did it fit.
• I was looking into helping our younger daughter and noticed that my husband met many ADHD criteria. What really opened my eyes was when my therapist said I wasn’t the one with the problem, and suggested I stop taking antidepressants and instead encourage my husband to be evaluated.
• We watched a TV show where a highly creative person described his life before and after medication. Joe said, “Hey, that’s me!” He was diagnosed shortly afterwards but never pursued treatment. The doc said it was Joe’s responsibility to follow up. I didn’t know back then that “poor follow up” is a common symptom in and of itself!
• I am an elementary school teacher. Many of my students have ADHD, and it is obvious many of their parents do as well. Gradually, I made the connection to my husband’s behavior.
• I was in graduate school studying psychology, and a fellow student told me my husband’s actions sounded like ADHD. I had just had a class that covered ADHD for children, but they never mentioned adults. The behaviors are often different, so it just didn’t connect in my mind.
• Seeing our doctor for stress once again, I told him that no, it wasn’t from dealing with my son, who has autism; it was from dealing with my husband. The doctor casually said, “It’s probably because he has ADHD.” I talked about it with my husband’s cousin, who works with special needs kids. She confirmed my husband has a “classic case”! Ha! I wish someone had let me in on this little secret a long time ago.
• After we’d been together for four years, my wife’s “refusal” to communicate plus her forgetfulness, disorganization, and poor judgment led me to think she should seek a professional evaluation. Fortunately, the psychologist recognized ADHD right away.
• My husband’s friend was diagnosed. When he described to us the behaviors related to ADHD, we realized that my husband had them, too. Around the same time, his father was also diagnosed.
• His professor suggested it, based on how many right answers my boyfriend had crossed out on a test and changed to wrong ones.
• I suggested that my wife’s son might have it. Her ex-husband seemed to have it, too, it was less clear if she had it. After “crashing and burning” a few years later, though, she was diagnosed. Her high intelligence meant she had always coping strategies but, by age 45, she’d hit the wall.
• We were watching TV and saw a commercial for medication. My boyfriend said that was exactly how his brain worked. We knew his nephew had ADHD, and he was a lot like him as a kid. He took an online screening quiz, which indicated he might have it. But he scoffed, saying they were trying to sell medication. I took the quiz, and it said I probably did not have AD/HD. He decided to make an appointment for an evaluation, and was diagnosed.
• My girlfriend was taking a calculus course for the third time, the only thing stopping her from completing her degree. When she failed the course again, the department head suggested that she might want to be evaluated for ADHD.
• I’d read a book about Adult ADHD, to better understand some friends who have ADHD. Still, I didn’t notice symptoms in my partner for the first six months, because she was in “hyperfocus mode” all the way. It seems the novelty of the new relationship was so stimulating, it helped her brain function better. After living together full-time, though, it only took about three months to realize that she probably had AD/HD. It took three years for her to agree to an evaluation, and sure enough, she has it.
What About You?
How did you and/or your partner make the connection to ADHD?
And, has that made a difference in your lives?
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Next time: What do you wish you’d known earlier about ADHD ?