ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental (related to the way the brain grows and develops) disorders. It is usually first diagnosed in childhood and often lasts into adulthood. Some adults have ADHD but have never been diagnosed. A person may not be diagnosed with ADHD until adulthood because teachers or family did not recognize the condition at a younger age, they had a mild form of ADHD, or they managed fairly well until they experienced the demands of adulthood, especially at work. Sometimes, young adults with undiagnosed ADHD have academic problems in college because of the intense concentration needed for college courses.
The symptoms can cause difficulty at college, work, at home, or with relationships. Symptoms may look different at older ages, for example, hyperactivity may appear as extreme restlessness. Symptoms can become more severe when the demands of adulthood increase.
It is never too late to seek a diagnosis and treatment for ADHD and any other mental health condition that may occur with it. Effective treatment can make day-to-day life easier for many adults and their families.
There are three different types of ADHD, depending on which types of symptoms are strongest in the individual:
- Predominantly Inattentive Presentation: It is hard for the individual to organize or finish a task, to pay attention to details, or to follow instructions or conversations. The person is easily distracted or forgets details of daily routines.
- Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation: The person fidgets and talks a lot. It is hard to sit still for long (e.g., for a meal or while doing homework). Smaller children may run, jump or climb constantly. The individual feels restless and has trouble with impulsivity. Someone who is impulsive may interrupt others a lot, grab things from people, or speak at inappropriate times. It is hard for the person to wait their turn or listen to directions. A person with impulsiveness may have more accidents and injuries than others.
- Combined Presentation: Symptoms of the above two types are equally present in the person.
Because symptoms can change over time, the presentation may change over time as well.
How diagnosed in adulthood:
Adults who think they may have ADHD should talk to their health care provider. Primary care providers routinely diagnose and treat ADHD and may refer individuals to mental health professionals.
Stress, other mental health conditions, and physical conditions or illnesses can cause similar symptoms to those of ADHD. Therefore, a thorough evaluation by a health care provider or mental health professional is necessary to determine the cause of the symptoms and identify effective treatments. During this evaluation, the health care provider or mental health professional will examine factors including the person’s mood, medical history, and whether they struggle with other issues, such as alcohol or substance misuse.
A thorough evaluation also includes looking at the person’s history of childhood behavior and school experiences. To obtain this information, an individual’s health care provider may ask for permission to talk with partners, family members, close friends, and others who know the individual well. A health care provider or mental health professional may use standardized behavior rating scales or ADHD symptom checklists to determine whether an adult meets the criteria for a diagnosis of ADHD. An individual may complete psychological tests that look at working memory, executive functioning (abilities such as planning and decision-making), visual and spatial (related to space), or reasoning (thinking) skills. Such tests can help identify psychological or cognitive (thinking-related) strengths and challenges and can be used to identify or rule out possible learning disabilities.
The Counseling Center does not diagnose ADHD, but can refer you to a health care provider who conducts a formal assessment and diagnoses ADHD.
Treatment for ADHD includes medication, therapy and other behavioral treatments, or a combination of methods. Students with ADHD could benefit from learning how to organize tasks, improve their ability to deal with emotional events, identifying techniques to improve focus and concentration, and finding ways to avoid taking unnecessary risks. Contact the Counseling Center to find out more about ADHD coaching and other services available for individuals with ADHD.
The NC State University Disability Resource Office (DRO) can offer a variety of accommodations for students with ADHD, such as extended time on tests, and individual testing rooms. If you are interested in requesting accommodation, please see the DRO website to learn the process.
Resources for ADHD:
- CDC “What is ADHD?”
- NIMH “Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Adults: What You Need to Know”
- Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) “For Adults”
A learning disability (LD) is a group of disorders that affects your ability either to interpret what you see and hear or to link information inputs from different parts of the brain. These limitations can show up in many ways. You may have difficulties with spoken and written language, coordination, self control, or attention. Such difficulties extend to schoolwork and can impede learning to read, write, or do math.
It is usually first diagnosed in childhood but some adults have learning disabilities but have never been diagnosed. Your natural abilities may have allowed you to compensate for your learning disability prior to college. Coping strategies that worked in high school may not work in the college environment of large class sizes and fast paced lectures.
If you are concerned that you may be experiencing a learning disability, please contact the Counseling Center at 919.515.2423. The Counseling Center does not diagnose Learning Disabilities, but can refer you to a health care provider who conducts a formal assessment and diagnoses learning disabilities.
The NC State University Disability Resource Office (DRO) can offer a variety of accommodations for students with Learning Disabilities. If you are interested in requesting accommodation, please see the DRO website to learn the process.