If you or your partner has ADHD, the signs would be obvious, yes? The signs of Adult ADHD would show themselves at the very beginning of the relationship, yes? Well…..no, not exactly. It might be true if you know what you’re looking for. Unfortunately, most people do not.
If you or your partner is about 30 or younger, chances improve that ADHD symptoms will be obvious. That’s because awareness and diagnosis has improved in the last 20 years.
Better childhood screening means more of today’s young adults with ADHD were diagnosed long ago. Let’s assume they received proper education and treatment. That would mean they enter relationships fully aware of their strengths and challenges and have embraced good compensatory strategies. That’s a big assumption.
Many others with a childhood diagnosis believe they “outgrew” ADHD. Maybe they never tried medication—or abandoned it once they left their parents’ house.
For most ADHD Partner Survey respondents, however, their ADHD partners were 30 and older when they took the survey in 2004 or 2006. For them, ADHD long flew far under the radar screen—sometimes for decades.
Misconceptions about what ADHD is—and is not—can prove a huge obstacle to recognizing the signs of Adult ADHD. You’ll find a list of such misconceptions below.
In large part, that’s why these stalwart survey takers persevered through an exhaustive 54-section survey: They wanted to share the knowledge they learned the hard way, to help others on the learning curve. Endless thanks to them.
Respondents Emphasize Three Key Points
1. They knew their partner for a long time before ever suspecting ADHD. That is mainly because they knew very little about ADHD and most of what they did know was wrong.
2. They discovered the possibility by randomly coming across a website, article, or book. More recently, a therapist made the discovery. Family doctors seldom recognized it. (If they did, they didn’t mention it.)
3. They wish they’d known earlier. Ignorance cost them and their families a great deal of money, pain, and anguish.
Respondents’ Frame of Reference:
- Most survey respondents reported that their ADHD partners had not been diagnosed before they met.
- Half said that their partner’s problematic ADHD symptoms surfaced after only weeks, months, or one year into the relationship.
- For 72 percent, the ADHD partner received a professional evaluation for ADHD during the relationship. Of those, 90 percent were indeed diagnosed. In most cases, the partner of the adult with ADHD initiated the discussion after seeing a TV show or reading a book, website, or article. (In only four percent of cases did the family physician suggest the possibility.)
- Half reported that difficulties took even longer to unfold, precipitated by increased responsibilities (children, employment, a mortgage, etc.). Life simply started demanding more than their brain function could handle. (Yes, this happens to many of us at some point. But for people with ADHD, it tends to happen sooner or more severely.)
- The survey provided many opportunities to provide details with text responses.
Below are representative responses to the question: “What did you know about Adult ADHD before your partner’s diagnosis?”
As you can see, there was nothing obvious about the signs of Adult ADHD.
ADHD Meant Hyperactivity—In Kids!
• ADHD meant hyperactivity in kids made worse through poor diet. Most people in the UK still don’t know it affects adults.
• My college roommate had ADHD and was on Ritalin for her hyperactivity. Until my husband’s diagnosis, I never knew you could have ADHD and show symptoms of lethargy.
• ADHD seemed a yuppie disease, an excuse for everything. Now I accept it’s a valid diagnosis, but my wife (who has it) doesn’t!
• Growing up, my cousin had very hyperactive ADHD. He took Ritalin and struggled in school. I never thought it manifested itself in adults because everyone said kids grow out of it.
• All I knew was that my husband had been called “hyperactive” as a child. The “solution” was to restrict sugar. Um, yeah.
• ADHD was for kids! Years ago, my husband read Driven to Distraction, but I ignored his saying it sounded just like him. For 25 years, he’d diagnosed himself with the disorder in every self-help book he read so I was numb to the diagnosis du jour. Turns out, he was right!
• I’m a psychotherapist, so my training made me aware of it in children, but I had no idea how it affected adult relationships.
• I was suspicious about this diagnosis, viewing it as a “catch-all” label for children with learning disabilities.
Denial Obscures Clarity
• I knew about my wife’s ADHD diagnosis but for years we didn’t realize how it affected our relationship. The forgetting and “absent-mindedness” I could deal with. Only later did I realize the depression, agitation, and blaming that was destroying our marriage were common ADHD traits, too. I believed her that her unhappiness was my fault.
• My husband’s psychiatrist-father knew of his son’s challenges starting early in life. Yet, he believes his genes are too superior for such a diagnosis. He blamed all his son’s problems on someone or something else. For years, I believed him. After all, he was the expert, right? Boy, that was helpful. Thanks, Dad! Fortunately, we figured it out ourselves and now with treatment my husband’s doing great.
To learn more about the key issues people with ADHD face at various ages, check this simple infographic on ADHD through the lifespan at the National Resource Center on ADHD website.
Also from the ADHD Partner Survey
How About You? Were the signs of Adult ADHD Obvious?
Did you have misconceptions about Adult ADHD before you learned the facts?
Feel free to share them in a comment. It’s easy, and you don’t have to register. Just write it in the box below.