Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a complex diagnosis rooted in the nervous system. ADHD not only affects concentration, it also causes other impairments in daily functioning such as completing tasks, maintaining hygiene, completing school work, work productivity, and eating. Here is a list of how ADHD presents in everyday life:

✅ sensitivity to noises, smells, crowds
✅ disordered eating tendencies 
✅ brain fog
✅ guilt and shame 
✅ random moments of exhaustion  
✅ compulsive tendencies 
✅ consistent second-guessing 
✅ fear of people’s perceptions of you
✅ over-sharing
✅ high and low mood swings 
✅ anger, rage, or annoyance 
✅ forgetting “simple” tasks, instructions, or reasons 
✅ feeling bored by activities requiring focus, attention, and brain functioning 
✅ only motivated by activities or tasks that are interesting 

Causes of ADHD

There are many factors that could contribute to the onset of ADHD. This diagnosis can also be present in childhood and misdiagnosed, leaving the symptoms untreated and continuing into adulthood. Children are not the only demographic that is diagnosed with ADHD. More recently, there has been an increase in adult ADHD diagnosis in females due to their different presentations of symptoms mimicking depression with suicide. 

An individual is more likely to be diagnosed with  ADHD due to genetics or trauma in the family before considering a diet. A diet with heavy sugar can contribute to an increase in hyperactive- impulsive symptoms with a spike in energy and then a decrease in energy. However ADHD is not caused by diet or health care.

While research is still inclusive on the causes or development of ADHD, here is a list of that may and may not be contributing factors:

💡 brain anatomy and function                   ❌ eating too much sugar
💡 genes and heredity                                   ❌ food additives
💡 significant head injuries                           ❌ allergies
💡 prematurity                                                 ❌ immunizations
💡 prenatal exposures
💡 toxins in the environment

💡 brain anatomy and function
💡 genes and heredity
💡 significant head injuries
💡 prematurity          
💡 prenatal exposures
💡 toxins in the environment
❌ eating too much sugar
❌ food additives
❌ allergies
❌ immunizations

Misconceptions About ADHD

ADHD carries many misconceptions likely due to its similarities in other diagnoses and/or exhibited behaviors. Since ADHD is rooted in neurobiology and displays mainly through disruptive behaviors, providers and natural supports are conditioned to control the behaviors solely through the use of medication, rather than addressing the symptoms. The pharmacologic approach has created a large stigma for the diagnosis. 

Even though an individual exhibits behaviors that minick the characteristics of ADHD, this does not necessarily presume this diagnosis. This is especially important to know when considering the use of psychostimulants to treat ADHD. Misuse of psychostimulants can cause a life threatening effect on neurotypical individuals. 

Here is a list of false symptoms and assumptions that are commonly mistaken as ADHD:

🚫 solely a lack of focus/concentration
🚫 due to hyper / lack focus
🚫 inability to focus on anything
🚫 laziness or stupidity
🚫 uncontrollable
🚫 because one cannot sit still 
🚫 incurable
🚫 a food allergy to sugar 
🚫 a diagnosis everyone has
🚫 based on gender
🚫 due to parenting
🚫 lack of discipline 
🚫 a fake diagnosis made by pharmaceutical companies 

Signs and Symptoms of ADHD

It is critical to remember that just because there are some behavioral signs, does not conclude the diagnosis of ADHD. Consulting a provider specializing in ADHD for proper assessment and diagnosis is key to the best treatment for this condition and any other related diagnoses. A mental health professional will be able to conclude a proper diagnosis by observing more than behaviors, such as the neurobiological systems. Since ADHD is rooted in the brain and nervous system, scales targeting these receptors are critical to evaluate and assess before concluding the diagnosis. 

Once again, a neurotypical individual misdiagnosed and prescribed psychostimulants can cause more harm than good. Below are behavioral signs that may be linked to an ADHD diagnosis:

🚩 boredom with challenging tasks
🚩 focusing on enjoyable tasks 
🚩 avoiding tasks 
🚩 piles of belongings at home, office, school desk/locker
🚩 struggles completing one task before moving on to another
🚩 feeling tired in the afternoon or taking naps throughout the day
🚩 fidgeting 
🚩 losing belongs
🚩 struggle with attention to detail  
🚩 frequent motor vehicle accidents 

Diagnosing ADHD

The DSM is considered a guide to decrease the stigma of labels that can manifest based on a diagnosis. A positive factor of the DSM-5 is its attempt to highlight how certain symptoms do not equal a diagnosis. Specifically for ADHD, the manual states:

“Note: The symptoms are not solely a manifestation of oppositional behavior, defiance, hostility, or failure to understand tasks or instructions (2013).”

A key factor of ADHD is the presence of symptoms in more than one system of an individual’s life. For example, the symptoms must be present in school, work, home, and other areas a person is involved with. ADHD can present with… 

⚡️low self esteem | negative self talk 
⚡️ anxious tendencies
⚡️ apart of the spectrum disorders
⚡️ can be managed
⚡️ can be diagnosed at any age
⚡️ transfers into adulthood
⚡️ can trigger other diagnoses
⚡️ diagnosed by a magnitude of symptoms
⚡️ can interfere with daily functioning or development 

In recent years, ADD has been combined with ADHD, creating their own categories for diagnosing. Now the diagnoses are considered: 

a.  ADHD with presentation of inattentive symptoms.
ADHD with presentation of hyperactive- impulsive symptoms
c.  A combined presentation of ADHD with both inattentive symptoms and hyperactivity- impulsivity. 

Provided below are symptoms from the DSM used by mental health providers for diagnosing: 

▶︎ present in more than one place (i.e school, home, work, community)

⚠️ persistent patterns of inattentive and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity 
⚠️ rooted in the development of the brain
⚠️ interferes with daily functioning or development
⚠️6 or more inattentive symptoms only, at least 5 symptoms for adults ages 17 and older

      • fails to give close attention to detail causing “careless mistakes” in work, school, etc
      • frequent difficulty in sustaining attention during play, tasks, activities, conversations, length readings, or lectures
      • does not seem to listen when spoken too directly– daydreaming, even with the absence of a distracting stimulus. 
      • struggles to follow through with completing assigned tasks or instructions– starts a project then quickly loses focus or starts another task.
      • difficulty with organization, such as sequential tasks; ie, reading length documents, keeping materials in order, disorganized space
      • avoids and dislikes or reculatant to complete tasks that require consistent mental effort
      • often misplaces things related to tasks or activities 
      • easily distracted by extraneous stimuli– for older individuals, may include unrelated thoughts
      • often forgetful in daily activities–  doing chores, running errands, paying bills, keeping appointments 

⚠️ 6 or more hyperactive-impulsive symptoms only

      • often fidgets, taps hands or feet, squirms in seat
      • often leaves seat in situations when required to stay seated 
      • often runs or climbs or exhibit inappropriate behaviors– usually seen in children– in adults, may be present with feeling restless
      • unable to engage in leisure or play activities quietly
      • often “on the go” or “the energizer bunny”
      • talks excessively 
      • often interrupts conversations, blurts answers out without being called on, completing other’s sentences before finished speaking
      • difficulty with waiting one’s turn
      • often interrupts conversations or intrude onto others by not asking permission before starting something or jumping into a conversation

❗️Combined presentation of both inattentive symptoms and hyperactivity-impulsivity

      • both characteristics of inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive are present for 6 months

Conditions Commonly Mistaken for ADHD

Bipolar, depression, anxiety, and sometimes personality disorders are the most common mental health diagnoses that show similar characteristics as ADHD. Here more information about each of these commonly misdiagnosed conditions:

✳️ Bipolar is a very common misdiagnosis due to the hyperactivity and impulsivity. Also the high and low mood swings that contribute to ADHD after hyperactive and impulsive behaviors. The inattentive behaviors cause a low mood, especially those who have a combined presentation of ADHD. 

✳️ Depression is almost always diagnosed hand and hand with ADHD. Due to the inability to focus on challenging activities, individuals begin to struggle with low self esteem, causing them to label themselves as “stupid.” The inability to motivate oneself to complete a task can cause isolation as well as a sense of guilt and shame for not being able to function at the same level as neurotypicals. Depression is all too often misdiagnosed due to consistent issues with focus, negative self esteem, and isolation.

✳️ Anxiety is also very commonly diagnosed with ADHD due to the inability to sit still or becoming hyper focused on outside stimuli causing an individual to redirect their attention to something out of their realm. 

✳️ Personality disorders are less likely to be mistaken, though not uncommon. With ADHD, individuals are sensitive to their emotions. They may display tendencies of heightened emotional distress, cutting people off in their life and then attempting to repair. 

Treating ADHD

There are many other options for the treatment of ADHD. Psychotherapy and psychostimulants are the most common treatments. Psychotherapy is a great option since it focuses not only on the diagnosis but also how it affects others around an individual. Therapists also provide support in the development of life skills to help their client functionality in their everyday lives. Individuals can obtain an ADHD coach that assists in life functioning, emotional management, and any other symptoms that solely are affected by ADHD. Whether you choose to work with a psychotherapist and/or a coach, the following are modalities that maybe considered for your treatment plan:

🧬 psychotherapy                       🧬 stimulant medications
🧬 hypnotherapy                         🧬 support groups
🧬 behavior therapy                  🧬 nonstimulant medications
🧬 guided imagery                     🧬 neurofeedback
🧬 social skills training              🧬 omega-3 supplements

🧬 psychotherapy
🧬 hypnotherapy
🧬 behavior therapy
🧬 guided imagery 
🧬 social skills training
🧬 stimulant medications
🧬 support groups
🧬 nonstimulant medications
🧬 neurofeedback
🧬 omega-3 supplements

Healthcare Professionals Who Treat ADHD

For the best results in a successful treatment of ADHD, seek providers that have specialities in the assessment, treatment, diagnosis, and continuing support of patients diagnosed with ADHD. 

Many medical and mental health providers are familiar with the diagnosis of ADHD.  However if your chosen provider is not, they should always provide a knowledgeable referral source. Specialized providers will have the capabilities to diagnose using various testing methods to decrease the likelihood of misdiagnoses and unnecessary treatments. 

If you choose to utilize medication, psychotherapy should always be incorporated in treatment planning. 

The following are professionals involved in the treatment of ADHD:

🧠 physicians                           🧠 licensed professional counselors 
🧠 social workers                    🧠 neurologists
🧠 psychiatrists                       🧠 therapists
🧠 nurse practitioners           🧠 psychologists
🧠 pediatricians                      🧠 marriage & family therapists


🧠 physicians
🧠 social workers
🧠 psychiatrists
🧠 nurse practitioners
🧠 pediatricians
🧠 licensed professional counselors 
🧠 neurologists
🧠 therapists
🧠 psychologists
🧠 marriage & family therapists


Recognizing Immediate Need for ADHD Treatment

Remember, you are an expert on your own life. When there is a concern for wellbeing and a decrease in daily functioning, it is critical to start reaching out for professional help. 

Relationships will most likely be the first characteristic affected in the diagnosis. Not only relationships with people, also relationships with self, home space, hygiene, work, enjoyable activities, and health. If there is a sense that something doesn’t feel “right” then follow the intuition and seek support. 

The following symptoms are cause for concern that may suggest the need for professional help:

🚨 negative affect on relationships
🚨negative thinking
🚨 conduct disorders
🚨low-self esteem
🚨 if symptoms lead to substance abuse
🚨 negative-self talk 
🚨 increased irritability, anger, and defiance
🚨 change of mood and emotions
🚨 decreased work / school performance
🚨 symptoms of depression/anxiety 
🚨disrupting operating machinery and/or motor vehicles

ADHD Professional Organizations

Provided are some resources to help the start of seeking support for ADHD. Though these are national links, consider narrowing options down by searching in your current location.