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Problems Associated with Adult ADHD

Margaret V. Austin, Ph.D., edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

As with children, adult ADHD causes multiple difficulties in most key areas of life. ADHD significantly interferes with the ability to function at school, work, home, and in social relationships.

Adult ADHD causes problems with school or work

The most common negative outcome of adult ADHD is underachievement. Unlike most children, adults with ADHD recognize that they seem to struggle more than other folks. Sadly, some people with ADHD can live their entire lives without ever knowing why they seem to struggle so much. They are not aware that their struggles are rooted in a treatable mental disorder. Instead, they may see themselves as fatally flawed by attributing their difficulties to an innate lack of motivation, laziness, or other character defect. With such an opinion of oneself, it becomes easier to understand the self-defeating cycle that often is established.

Adults with ADHD had previous problems at school

Most adults who have ADHD symptoms report a history of poor school performance. Some people with mild cases of ADHD can learn to compensate during their educational years and perform adequately. However, most adults with ADHD report significant difficulty during their school years; so much so that 25% of adults with ADHD drop out of school. Only 12% obtain a bachelor's degree, and only 4% hold a professional position. This history of poor school performance often triggers additional problems in adults with ADHD. This may include oppositional defiance, depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. These problems transfer over to the workplace.

Adults with ADHD have problems in the workplace

Adults with ADHD often experience career difficulties. Problems with concentration, organization, and task completion continue to plague them. Adults with ADHD tend to dislike following established policies and procedures in the workplace; and, get into trouble when they do not. They respond poorly to rigid authority and may frequently express anger and frustration at dull, meaningless, or uninteresting job requirements. For these reasons, adults with ADHD tend to have fewer occupational achievements, change employers frequently, and may simply quit out of boredom.

Adults with ADHD will likely benefit from predictable work routines. However, they also need flexible deadlines; projects that require a creative approach; and, new or exciting topics to hold their interest. One surprising research finding is that ADHD adults appear to be more likely to own their own small businesses. This may be due to the failure of traditional employment settings to meet the unique needs of ADHD. There are some high-functioning individuals who can sufficiently organize their own work activities, or who can afford to hire someone to perform these functions. For these folks, small business ownership may allow them to avoid dreary routines and rigid, demanding bosses. It may simultaneously provide a creative outlet to embrace their unique, artistic talents and gifts.


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