The core symptoms of ADHD include inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Many people confuse “laziness” with ADHD symptomology. Learn the behaviors that could indicate the presence of adult ADHD – inattentive type.
Transcription featuring Dr. Judy Ho
Kyle Kittleson: There are symptoms to adult ADHD that you might not be aware of. Here to go through nine often hidden symptoms of adult ADHD is Dr. Judy Ho, clinical psychologist. Welcome to MedCircle, Dr. Judy. I would love to get to the first one right away, which is: makes careless mistakes and lacks attention to detail. Can you explain more?
1. Makes Careless Mistakes and Lacks Attention to Detail
Dr. Judy Ho: Absolutely. So these are individuals sometimes who will say, “Well, I just don’t like paying attention to the detail. I just like big picture things.” And that may be true, but the reason why they like the big picture things is because they have some deficiencies at paying attention to details. Not only do they have no patience for it, but they make more mistakes when they’re looking at routine monotonous information, but sometimes those details are important. For example, paying your bills or making sure you address all of the different points that somebody asks you about in an email.
2. Difficulty Sustaining Attention
Kyle Kittleson: Number two is difficulty sustaining attention. Now, when I hear that, I go, “Well, yeah, that’s classic ADHD.” Why is this often a hidden trait?
Dr. Judy Ho: Well, it’s a hidden trait because oftentimes individual will just start to, as they’re adults, build their lives around the things that they truly have interest in. So it doesn’t come out all the time. But the complaints that I actually get are from romantic partners and family members. “I feel like he or she is never listening to me. They’re never focused on what I’m saying. It’s like they’re tuned out.” And so sometimes they come to therapy because their partners are complaining about this issue. And then later on, after an evaluation process, we find that the issue is not that they don’t care. It’s that they have an undiagnosed or unaddressed ADHD symptom.
3. Does Not Seem to Listen (even when spoken to directly)
Kyle Kittleson: Really interesting. That is bringing us right into our third point nicely, which is does not seem to listen when spoken to directly. When is it though that somebody might just be distracted because they’re stressed at work or they’re having something big going on in their lives. So, of course they’re distracted, rather than, “Hey, I’m distracted and I can’t listen to you because I have undiagnosed ADHD.”
Dr. Judy Ho: I think the difference is if it only happens around times and periods of stress, versus when it’s happening pretty much all the time. And so for an individual with ADHD, of course, when they’re stressed, it’s going to be even more problematic. But even when they’re not stressed, they kind of seem like they’re staring off into space sometimes when you’re talking to them. You might have to repeat yourself multiple times. Or maybe they seem like they were listening, and then they turn around and they say, “Wait, what did you just tell me?” So those are the kinds of signs that we see in somebody who has this undiagnosed symptom.
Kyle Kittleson: Makes sense. If you or someone you love could use weekly mental health and psychology videos, make sure you like this video and subscribe to this free YouTube channel. That helps us spread this credentialed information across the planet. Appreciate your support. Let’s go to number four, which is fails to follow through on tasks and instructions.
4. Fails to Follow Through on Tasks and Instructions
Dr. Judy Ho: Failing to follow through on tasks is probably the biggest complaint that I get from well-meaning adults who have ADHD and are saying, “But for some reason, I’m just missing deadlines. I can’t keep up.” Or, “My boss or supervisor is reprimanding me.” Or, “I’m getting in trouble with my college professors.” And it’s because it’s really hard for them to start a project, see it through all the way and do so in a timely manner. Oftentimes they get very excited about things that they want and have to do. But then when it comes down to the details of completing all of the tasks, they might stop somewhere in between, they get stuck. And then their executive function concerns make it harder for them to get back on track or to plan ahead to make sure that they do finish those things on time.
Kyle Kittleson: We’ll get to these other symptoms and traits, but when I look at them, I could easily see somebody saying, this is just somebody who is lazy. They don’t get to blame them not doing their tasks on their adult ADHD. They are just lazy. What is your response to that?
Dr. Judy Ho: I think that oftentimes people will say this about ADHD, children and adults, that a lot of the behaviors that they do, which can annoy and frustrate other people around them are willful behaviors. And it’s just not true. ADHD is a neurological condition. And until the person learns different kinds of coping mechanisms and accommodation strategies or receives medication treatment, they’re going to continue to display these behaviors. So no, the person with ADHD is not lazy. Conversely, I know a lot of individuals with ADHD who actually work so much harder than the average person to try to cover up these discrepancies and deficiencies that other people perceive in them.
Kyle Kittleson: Absolutely. You and Dr. Domenick Sportelli both opened my mind to ADHD to really understand it. And we have series in depth on adult ADHD and ADHD in children. We’ll link to those in the description of this video for you to check out. Number five is, exhibits poor organization.
5. Exhibits Poor Organization
Dr. Judy Ho: Organizational skills are very important, especially as you try to organize all the different domains of your life from personal responsibilities, to social responsibilities, to your work and school responsibilities. And when somebody can’t organize properly, then they’re going to have more difficulty executing projects. They might also experience issues with procrastination, frustrations, disappointments, and negative self-talk in terms of their own capabilities to be able to overcome these issues. So I say that the poor organizational issues not only have that very real impact on their lives, but also has an impact on how they feel about themselves and their self-esteem.
6. Avoids (or dislikes) Tasks That Require Sustained Mental Effort
Kyle Kittleson: Number six is avoids or dislikes tasks that require sustained mental effort. I’m going to really push back on this one because there are a lot of tasks that I don’t like because they require sustained mental effort, but I don’t have ADHD. What are your thoughts, Dr. Judy?
Dr. Judy Ho: Yeah, I know. I feel like that symptom is a little interesting because who likes to have attention on sustained tasks that are kind of boring or it takes a long time? Probably nobody. But I think the issue with individuals who have ADHD, where this is more of a problem is that they completely avoid doing it to the point where they start to get in trouble. They don’t pay the bills for months, not because they can’t pay the bills, but they just really dislike having to sit down and do that process. And now they’re completely behind and owe a bunch of money. It can frustrate family members and people they’re in relationship with, if they’re avoiding doing certain things that are things that are responsibilities and they just keep avoiding them to the point where people start picking fights with them and arguing with them about why they’re not doing them.
I think when it’s affecting your life in that way, or causes you a lot of mental distress, that’s the difference between somebody who has ADHD struggling with this issue, versus the average person just saying, “Yeah, nobody likes paying bills. I put it off to the very last minute.” But they still do pay them and generally pay them on time.
Kyle Kittleson: Yes, that does make sense. This next one is what I would consider very hidden. I would love to see if any viewers have experienced this trait or know somebody who has. Please leave a comment if that relates to you. It’s that somebody could lose things necessary for a task or activity.
7. Losing Things Necessary for a Task or Activity
Dr. Judy Ho: Losing things that’s necessary is something that a lot of adults with ADHD complain to me about, and it could be anything. Losing their keys, losing track of where their phone is, where their glasses are, they’re leaving the house and all of a sudden they can’t find any of the things that they need before they leave. And some of this relates to the poor organization we talked about before, and also the fact that sometimes people with ADHD, they’re just a little bit more absent-minded. Again, not intentionally, but that’s just the way that their brain works sometimes. So they’ll put down their phone, but forget where they put it. Whereas maybe the average person will have a very clear recollection of, “Oh, I put my phone by the dining room table.” And so a workaround is obviously to try to have some of your necessities always in the same place so that if you’re absentmindedly going through your routine, you know that you always leave your key by the box next to your front door. So if you don’t know where it is, it probably is there.
8. Easily Distracted Through Unrelated Thoughts
Kyle Kittleson: Number eight is easily distracted, but… We all hear that, ADHD easily distracted. Most people understand that. But this nuance of unrelated thoughts, the distraction is that I should be in this interview with Dr. Judy, but I’m having this unrelated thought. Can you explain more about that?
Dr. Judy Ho: Absolutely. We are not really multitaskers. I know that everybody says, “Oh, I’m such a great multitasker. I want to be a multitasker.” But truly your brain actually works best switching back and forth between information. And individuals who have ADHD, they may have more intrusions of thoughts that really shouldn’t be there when they’re trying to focus on something else. And then they have a hard time tuning those thoughts out or using their executive function skills to say, let’s put that aside and think about that a little later. They allow those interests thoughts to then take over and impact the thoughts and the tasks that they are actually attending to in that very moment.
And so I think because of this, it can be really difficult because when they’re trying to focus on something, it creates even more friction when there’s also other thoughts in your head that are coming in, that you’re trying to wrestle with. And you’re trying to put them aside, but it’s really hard for individuals with ADHD to do that properly and well. And that can also cause a cascade of other symptoms that we already talked about, like difficulty finishing things, disorganization, procrastination, and other symptoms like that.
Kyle Kittleson: I’ll also add, and certainly correct me if I’m wrong, but when we have those unrelated thoughts that distract us from our project or our task, I find myself when this does happen, that then I judge myself for having unrelated thoughts. So now I go, “Kyle, you can’t even get your thoughts in line. You can’t stay focused.” And then I have to say to myself, “Okay, well just be a little more compassionate. You had some unrelated thoughts. That happens. Now, get back in line.” Sometimes I think we’re so quick to judge when we realized we’re not performing at our best and that, I think, can have a lot of negative consequences. What are your thoughts on that?
Dr. Judy Ho: I absolutely agree with that. And I think it’s that second wave of judgment that we do on our first wave of thoughts, that really is the most damning and the most detrimental to our wellbeing. You can have those thoughts intrude, like we all do, but it’s that story, that narrative that you tell yourself about why those thoughts came in that make you feel so much worse, and then make it even more difficult the next time to get going on something.
9. Forgetful in Daily Activities
Kyle Kittleson: Yeah. And then you’re still having unrelated thoughts to the task. You’re thinking about judging yourself. The final one also, not too hidden here, but there are some nuances that I want people to understand. It’s forgetful in the daily activities, the things we do every day. How do we forget these little… Sometimes I go, “I forgot to brush my teeth,” but I brush my teeth two times a day, at least.
Dr. Judy Ho: Right. Yeah. So it’s that idea of maybe not ever being able to be mindful about things, like getting home and not realizing how you got home and wandering in your house and not really sure what you just did for the last two, three minutes. Having certain routines and errands that you need to run every day and that should already be in your arsenal. And you should already know that like the back of your hand, and yet you still forgot to do something that you do every single day. This is very common for individuals with ADHD because they tend to be a bit more absent-minded. And that’s why it’s so important to teach people with ADHD mindfulness skills. It actually helps them to focus better. And mindfulness strategies is a really great evidence-supported treatment for certain symptoms of ADHD.
Kyle Kittleson: Yeah. Mindfulness, you’re going to hear it ad nauseam at MedCircle. And there’s a reason for that. It is relevant, prevalent, and effective. So if you’ve not been practicing a little mindful exercises, go find some or go to medcircle.com and you can locate plenty of exercises there.
Dr. Judy, I appreciate your insight on adult ADHD, but I want to leave our viewers with a sense of hope in terms of the chances of recovering from an ADHD diagnosis as an adult.
Dr. Judy Ho: Absolutely ADHD is treatable and despite your frustrations and how much they have negatively impacted your life to this point, know that there are a variety of scientific treatments available, and it’s not all about medication. If medication is not your thing, that’s okay, because there’s number of behavioral interventions that work really well. It’s really about learning how to improve upon the skillsets that you feel like you have certain deficiencies in, and also learning accommodations for those areas that are just weaker in your skillsets. And knowing that there’s always room for neuroplasticity, you can always change the way your brain works no matter what age you are.
Kyle Kittleson: That’s right. Dr. Judy, pleasure to see you. For more information on ADHD, mental health and psychology, check the description of this video. Remember, whatever you’re going through, you got this.