Thousands of adults have no idea they have ADHD, but once aware, the knowledge can be empowering…
By Margaret Nicholls
When you mention ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), most people immediately think of hyperactive, naughty boys. However, in the UK there are approximately 3 million adults with ADHD, a third of whom are women. And many are completely unaware that they have the condition.
So how can someone know whether they have ADHD? Signs include severe lack of concentration, impulsive behaviour, having poor organisational and timekeeping skills, procrastinating and being easily bored. Being fidgety and restless is also an indication, although most adults are much less hyperactive than children with ADHD.
Unsurprisingly, these behaviours can cause difficulties in life, both at work and at home. According to Dr Russell Barkley, a clinical psychologist and a leading expert on ADHD, they change jobs more than the average person, often have relationship problems, are more likely to have issues with alcohol or drug abuse and have more car accidents.
The challenge of ADHD diagnosis
Obtaining an official diagnosis as an adult can be very difficult. ‘At the moment it can take more than a year for an adult to be diagnosed on the NHS,’ says Andrew Lewis, who coaches adults with ADHD. ‘There are many barriers: the lack of knowledge amongst GPs and the lack of funding to name just two. Many people choose to pay a psychiatrist privately; a diagnosis can cost between £400 and £800.’
For an official diagnosis, current criteria state that ADHD must be present before the age of 12, so you will often have to bring along old school reports, or testimonies from your family. Andrew Lewis, who is ADHD himself, says: ‘If you read my old school reports they are telling: ‘Excellent but noisy’, ‘Too easily distracted’, ‘Still under-achieving’. At the time, though, it was not picked up that it was ADHD. I had no idea until I self-diagnosed at the age of 43.’
There are checklists online which can help you make an initial self-diagnosis, such as the one on www.nhs.uk. Alternatively, there are new objective tests, such as the QbCheck, developed in Sweden. This 20-minute test rates your response to a simple, repetitive task while a webcam monitors your head movements. It’s suitable for ages 6 to 60 and costs from £49. However, these are not replacements for a clinical assessment.
How ADHD coaching can help
Although medication is normally the first line of treatment, coaching can be a big support, too. ‘It can help you develop effective work habits and routines to overcome your ADHD challenges,’ says Andrew Lewis, who is based in Kingston but does all his coaching over the phone.
‘Procrastination is often a big problem, particularly for people in further education,’ he adds. ‘Someone doing a PhD, for example, might have a deadline two years from now. This is particularly challenging because ADHD people can’t connect to the future as well as others can. Strategies to overcome concentration difficulties might be finding a new environment to work, studying while listening to music, or watching TV.’
‘Sometimes the solution is simply to offload the problem,’ Andrew says. ‘For example, if you put off tackling paperwork and bills, you could hire someone to do those things for you. I have a virtual PA, who manages all my admin.’
Organisational strategies can help with punctuality and short term memory problems, like keeping checklists or using sticky reminder notes. However, Andrew warns that they only work to a point. ‘We know how to plan, we know how to organise things, it’s just that we don’t. More importantly, with clients I’m looking at finding ways to consistently execute these plans, to change to this new behaviour.
‘With coaching you’re more likely to move forward and achieve the things you want to be achieving. Hopefully, clients feel empowered and better about being ADHD.’
Access to Work
Help with funding for ADHD coaching is available through the government’s Access to Work scheme. The grant is aimed at providing practical support for people with a disability, health or mental health condition.
To qualify, you must have a paid job, have a job interview lined up, be about to begin a job or work experience, or be self-employed. However, you need a documented medical ADHD diagnosis before you apply.
It’s worth bearing in mind that you might have to disclose your ADHD to your employer, but legally they cannot discriminate against you. For more information, go to www.gov.uk/access-to-work
The positives of ADHD
Andrew Lewis says that when businesses better understand ADHD, they can reap huge benefits. ‘In the right position, with the right objectives and responsibilities, ADHD employees can shine. They are often entrepreneurial, maverick problem-solvers who lead with insight, passion and humour.’
He adds that people with ADHD tend to be creative, excellent at ideas and much more likely to start their own business than the average person. ‘Some of the best entrepreneurs and innovators are ADHD, for example Sir Richard Branson, Jamie Oliver and Will.I.Am.
‘ADHD people tend to have very good verbal skills. Many great orators and comedians are ADHD. They are often fast talkers and very funny – Jim Carrey is a perfect example.’
The celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal was recently diagnosed with ADHD and he sees it as an essential part of his creativity. ‘I wouldn’t change it for the world,’ he said. ‘When I’m working, it’s fantastic. I can have 20 web pages open, with two projects, and keep joining the dots and making connections.’
The most important step for many is obtaining a diagnosis. ‘The revelation is life changing,’ Andrew Lewis stresses. ‘When you are presented with this list of symptoms that so completely meshes with your own experience of life, you begin to rewrite your past. It gives you a completely different understanding of why you did certain things.
‘Often there’s an element of healing, too. You can forgive yourself for past sins and be more pragmatic about the choices you make from then on. You can adopt a life that reflects the reality of how you are. It’s all about adjusting and accepting.’
For more information about Andrew Lewis’s coaching, go to: www.simplywellbeing.com