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~Specific~ symptoms of ADHD?
April 18, 2012 4:19 PM   Subscribe

What are some less generic, more specific symptoms of ADD/ADHD?

I'm one of the many people starting to wonder whether they too might have a bit of ADD. Even though I don't have insurance (I'm 21), so I wouldn't be able to get meds anyway if I did have it, lately I've been more and more interested in the specific symptoms.

For example, first I heard that caffeine might make someone with ADD concentrate rather than becoming all hopped up. Then, I read on another MeFi thread: "You might want to look into getting evaluated and treated for any learning disorders or ADHD, for which some high grades and some Fs is a common pattern." I also heard that it's hard to concentrate on what people are saying in a crowded room, and that irritability and depression could also be caused by it.

Although I don't really see the generic symptoms in myself (i.e. "not finishing projects," "being disruptive," "having racing thoughts"), when I see specific things like above, I always seem to relate. For example, in high school I took a biology class one semester, got an F, and retook it with the same teacher and got an A. I couldn't pay attention in high school and graduated with a 1.3 GPA. I also tend to drift in and out of listening to important phone conversations which I know are important/professional. Also, irritability and bad anger management run in the family somewhat, especially when computers or bad drivers are involved.

But enough about me. Do you have any other specific examples like the few I listed? Changing careers, handwriting, anything like that which wouldn't be found on WebMD.

And are there any main symptoms that absolutely must be present? I always hear that "your thoughts are like a television that's always changing channels" is a big one (which is delightfully specific), although I'm not sure I feel like that really. I do have a hard time sticking to one activity, that's something.

Alternatively, how the heck do they test for ADHD, anyway?
posted by lhude sing cuccu to Health & Fitness (34 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
Making conversations much more debate-like than they need to be, and not noticing that not everyone enjoys this.

Self-absorption. I don't mean this judgmentally. This is hard to see in oneself, obviously, but others sense it. I think it's due to being distracted and having so much going on mentally that it's difficult to give much focus to other people.
posted by gentian at 4:46 PM on April 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


Someone previously asked what it's like living with ADHD and I think the personal anecdotes that were used to answer this question might be of interest to you.
posted by livinglearning at 4:48 PM on April 18, 2012


I can't tune out random noises and sounds. I can't read a map, and I get lost easily. If I'm immersed in something, a bomb could go off and I wouldn't notice.
There's not a blood or urine test, but the tests that do exist are generally pretty good.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:53 PM on April 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


DSM-IV Criteria for ADHD
posted by aniola at 4:56 PM on April 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Making conversations much more debate-like than they need to be, and not noticing that not everyone enjoys this.

Holy crap, I have a friend with ADD who's exactly like this. She says it's because she's "east coast." Yeah, right.

Carry on.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 4:56 PM on April 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


One thing about ADHD is it's inconsistent - different people will show different symptoms, and a single person's symptoms may vary from day to day or situation to person.

Another thing about it is that basically all of the symptoms are things that neurotypical people also experience, but to a lesser degree. Nobody's 100% focused all the time, and everyone misses hearing things sometimes when in a noisy environment. But if these things and other things are happening to a extent and in a way that it's disruptive to your life, that's when it's a disorder.

I think that thread livinglearning linked to has lots of good descriptions, so I'm not going to chime in with my own.

I will say though that the way they diagnose ADHD is they ask you a questions about a bunch of the symptoms, and if you have enough of them, strongly enough, then that's ADHD.
posted by aubilenon at 4:57 PM on April 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


From situation to situation, that should read.
posted by aubilenon at 4:58 PM on April 18, 2012


Alternatively, how the heck do they test for ADHD, anyway?

I don't know how adults are tested, but school-aged children are often initially screened via the Yale Children's Inventory. The YCI is a questionnaire that parents and optionally, teachers fill out based on their observations and interactions with the child.
posted by jamaro at 5:01 PM on April 18, 2012



Alternatively, how the heck do they test for ADHD, anyway?


I went to a psychologist one time to get "tested" and it was very subjective. It was also at a university, so I think they're very hesitant to diagnose anyone unless their life is falling apart.

But, bottom line: super subjective. The DSM criteria is that it's "disruptive" but what does that really mean? For example: do you have a job? Oh, then you must not have it because it's not disruptive enough to make you lose your job.
posted by cupcake1337 at 5:06 PM on April 18, 2012


It is so difficult for me to tune out random background noises that I need to have a fan (or something similar sounding) running literally 24/7 or I cannot fucking cope. (I get the best sleep of my entire life on airplanes.)
posted by elizardbits at 5:31 PM on April 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Your example seems to miss the point about inconsistent grades.

People with ADHD are capable of having focus, the problem is that they cannot regulate that focus. So you could go a month without doing homework and paying attention in class, but then sit down and knock it all out in a 24 hour cram session.

Some classes work well with that sort of study discipline. Classes that are heavy on reading and writing come to mind. But barring an innate talent, math, language and music tend to require regular practice to make decent progress. So these monthly cram sessions do little to help your test scores.

Plus, those teachers know you need to study. So homework tends to be a large part of the grade, exacerbating the GPA discrepancy between your A's and D's. To give you an idea, I was a solid 3.0 in college, but had 3.5+ in my major. There were a lot of C's to make that average to 3.0.

Doing well on a similar class the second time around is the point of taking a class the second time. So unless the material or coursework was vastly different, I wouldn't say it's a symptom.

I had to take a class as part of my ADHD treatment, and one of the exercises is to do something for only 15 minutes a day and then stop. "I get eight people who will tell me they forgot to do their chore all week, but it's okay because they did it for TWO HOURS on Sunday. That's the ADHD right there. Not understandably avoiding an unlikeable chore."
posted by politikitty at 5:41 PM on April 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Distractability. Not being able to focus on something one does not find rewarding or stimulating. Impulsiveness. Lack of frontal lobe function.
There is a wide range and the only reason to diagnose something is for the sake of treatment and its associated factors.
Currently, ADD/ADHD must be determined as existing during development, but there are incidences of acquired ADD and ADD-like conditions. Response to medication is in part how they define if you have a condition. Everyone does somewhat better on ADD medication. People with ADD do significantly better. Caffeine and other ANS stimulants do not have the same effect as ADD medication, but many people self-medicate.
Most all conditions are on a continuum, and people can adapt to their strengths and weaknesses, especially nowadays with the aid of technology. Disorders are determined mostly by distress and dysfunction. Many people with ADD change their environments and assistance to get by, many use medication.
What you may see as your weaknesses may be your strengths. It really depends on what you do with them.
posted by provoliminal at 5:43 PM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


My mom interrupts herself mid-sentence quite frequently. Also, she has great difficulty going to sleep on time because she gets distracted while intending to go to bed/get ready for bed. Sometimes she will hyperfocus on one thing, like polishing a tea kettle (at 2am.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:03 PM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't read a map, and I get lost easily.

The fundamental trait of ADHD is "Ohh, shiny...." If you've ever looked up an article on Wikipedia and spent the next hours skipping through wiki links, and then *forget* what you originally looked up, I'd personally consider that a diagnosis.

IANAD. IHADHD. OMDIHADHD

I'm mean, everyone's started at Martin Luther King and ended up at the B-25 Mitchell bomber via Ancient Egypt.

right?
posted by eriko at 7:07 PM on April 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


I left graduate school because sitting through 3 hour seminars was absolutely excruciating for me - I think I went to less than half of the classes each semester. Each week when the class times rolled around I just thought about sitting there for 3 hours and couldn't do it. So I usually didn't.

When I did I would sit there and actually feel a twitching sensation and an urge to run screaming from the room. There was also a lot of anxiety because I would sit there listening to people talk and suddenly realize that I had glazed over and not processed a word of what they were saying for the past 10 minutes.

I was interested enough in the material itself and did the readings, wrote the papers, etc, but sitting through the classes was unbearable.

NOBODY could relate to that. Sitting through the classes is mildly difficult for many people, but for me it was painful.

I also have trouble conversing with people who take forever to get to the point. I have to bite my tongue. My mother is one of these people.
posted by fromageball at 7:08 PM on April 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh yeah I also have to either have earplugs in or a lot of background noise in order to read anything. If it's quiet and I don't have earplugs in, I am listening for background noise. I used to do my readings while either listening to techno or rap music.
posted by fromageball at 7:14 PM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I find coffee drives me absolutely up a fucking wall if I don't time it pretty much perfectly with food, and my psychiatrist confirmed that not everyone can self medicate with caffeine.

Being unable to find my keys unless they are physically clipped to my purse. Seriously, I will set them on a counter, tuck them into my shoe, put them in my pocket and wonder where I was sitting when they fell out. Learning to drive was the only thing that sparked the intensity of 'must not lose the keys!' how did I learn to not lose them? I bought the biggest, tackiest keychain I could find. It was a rubber chicken. It wasn't so much about not misplacing them as you could see the chicken from outer space.

Interrupting teachers to tell them they've misused or spelled a word incorrectly. Asking questions in class that. Nobody else cares about, and not getting hat I'm the only one who cares. Blurting out answers before anyone can get a hand up. Wiggling in my chair mumbling I know. I know. I know!

The smoking guns were that this had all been problematic as long as I can remember, and had cause significant and seriouse consequences. That I wanted to not be reading entire books in one sitting when I should have been getting dressed for school. But I was sucked in and unable to disengage.

In short, the symptoms are horrible and very very hard to 'just snap out of.' there are cognitive skills and other coping mechanisms, but practice is crucial.
posted by bilabial at 7:34 PM on April 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


In short, the symptoms are horrible and very very hard to 'just snap out of.'

Holy cow, did you just nail it. Can't find something you just set down -- and it happens again, and again, and again.
posted by eriko at 7:37 PM on April 18, 2012


I just went through the testing for ADHD last summer, and it was not subjective. It was clinical psychological testing that I booked three months in advance and took a whole day to complete at my local university's testing center. It involved a battery of standardized tests, including IQ tests and focus tests, in addition to a lengthy interview. It is a good idea to get tested because it carries more weight than weighing a bunch of anecdata or a self-diagnosis. I live in a college town where drug-seeking for ADD meds is a common issue for doctors, but my clinical diagnosis has helped everyone take me seriously (including my family... and even myself)

If you can't pursue a clinical assessment, I recommend that you take a look at some of the books that are out there, like Driven to Distraction. This is the book that made me call to make that appointment, because it so aptly described me.

There are multiple types of ADHD and different people present differently. For me, not finishing projects is huge, as is procrastination and inability to focus when presented with something difficult. I also have a fundamental problem with motivation and impulsivity.
However, despite not getting diagnosed until 34, I did very well in school. I finished college, finished my master's degree, and have always been steadily employed. I also am a big organizer for my social groups. Most of my friends would never say that I have ADHD, but I do. And the diagnosis and subsequent treatments have changed my life.
posted by aabbbiee at 8:26 PM on April 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


Watch "ADD and Loving It?".

The key thing to understand about ADHD and "normal" people is that it is normal to not want to focus on boring things. But where ADHD starts to look like a possibility is when someone wants, often desperately, to focus on something important to them, but cannot.

It is a lack of executive function- remembering to refocus after a distraction. You set out to make a sandwich and three hours later find the mayonnaise on the counter and the kitchen half painted. There was literally no moment when you were able to think "no, don't paint the kitchen, you are making a sandwich".

It is also something that must have been present in childhood. There are lots of "I never did any homework but was able to get through school on natural talent and charm." People with undiagnosed ADHD can often get through grade school and high school, but when they hit college it all falls apart. They will, however, probably report that grade school and high school sucked. Constant stress, being bullied or made fun of, getting their desks dumped out at their feet, etc. People with ADHD will often find people to be co-dependent with. They will hook up with planner-types to point them in the right direction. Sometimes they can be wildly successful when paired with the right people. But their personal lives might be wildly chaotic, too.
posted by gjc at 9:09 PM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have a circadian rhytm sleep disorder and my doctor said, with my sleep pattern, there is no chance I could NOT have ADD symptoms. Sleep related dysfunctional behaviors might be erroneously interpreted as symptoms of ADD/ADHD.
posted by leigh1 at 3:00 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was diagnosed with ADD as an adult, and apparently the biggest indicator was the IQ test.

We went through the results afterwards, in the form of graphs, and I scored highly in almost all of the various sub-categories, but when it came to the maths part (more specifically I think it relates to holding/juggling various data in your head) it looked like the Marinaras Trench.

This appeared to be the thing that convinced the specialist I had ADD, as opposed to just being a lazy, annoying twat.
posted by Quantum's Deadly Fist at 3:20 AM on April 19, 2012


I was told that there had to be symptoms present before the age of 7 (and I see that that's one of the DSM-IV criteria aniola linked to). I think that one is particularly significant for adults because it's the hardest to fake.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 4:02 AM on April 19, 2012


I went in for ADD/ADHD testing a few minths ago. The Psych did an hour long interview than asked me to bring in report cards from grade school. He was looking for notes about an inability to stay still in class or tendancy to be disruptive.

Since I couldn't produce any that said that, he didn't do any additional testing. He said my attention issues were likely caused by anxiety (which seems at least somewhat right).

Anyways, the book "Driven to Distraction" has a good guide to ADD/ADHD symptoms.
posted by drezdn at 5:53 AM on April 19, 2012


We went through the results afterwards, in the form of graphs, and I scored highly in almost all of the various sub-categories, but when it came to the maths part (more specifically I think it relates to holding/juggling various data in your head) it looked like the Marinaras Trench.

This probably varies in different people. I test well because I enjoy taking tests, but I almost always would test lower on the reading comprehension areas. Like on my ACT, I think I got a 25 in some of the reading areas, whereas I got a 36 in spatial reasoning. Because the little games where you fold up the box in your head were fun as hell for me.

I'm currently studying for a work related certification. Even now, with treatment, when I review my practice tests, I see stupid mistakes where I miss some tiny detail and screw up the answer. I'm still doing some of the "blurting out the answer before reading the entire question" behaviors. (It doesn't help that the tests appear to have been designed by someone who is a sadist against ADHD people.)
posted by gjc at 6:01 AM on April 19, 2012


I went in for ADD/ADHD testing a few minths ago. The Psych did an hour long interview than asked me to bring in report cards from grade school. He was looking for notes about an inability to stay still in class or tendancy to be disruptive.

Since I couldn't produce any that said that, he didn't do any additional testing. He said my attention issues were likely caused by anxiety (which seems at least somewhat right).


One of the problems with the disorder is that it is a chicken and the egg thing with regards to co-morbid disorders like anxiety and depression. Especially as someone gets older and develops coping mechanisms.

The way I ended up diagnosed was that my pdoc prescribed an anti depressant to me, which worked to some extent, but not anything I was happy with. He referred me to a psychiatrist, and promptly 6 months later I made an appointment. The psychiatrist listened to my troubles, asked me the questions about my report cards, handed me a self-assessment and I scored through the roof.

The thing about the self assessment was the language was designed to elicit truth about the symptoms. Unlike the generic online kinds of questionnaires where they just ask the questions more or less from the DSM-IV, this gave examples. Because, I think for a lot of people, we overlook a lot of symptoms or settings where there actually is a lot of disruption.

An example might be: "can sit still and pay attention in class". I'm going to answer "yes" because I was terrified of getting in trouble, and because my teachers always put me in the front of the classroom. But when prompted with other situations, like church or meetings or sitting in a movie, it became very clear that in situations where I was not terrified, I was a terrible blurter-outer and fidgeter.
posted by gjc at 6:19 AM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was told that there had to be symptoms present before the age of 7

...

The Psych did an hour long interview than asked me to bring in report cards from grade school.

This is another issue with the testing. Who can accurately remember what they were like at 7 years old? And, I and no one else I know has their report cards from grade school.
posted by cupcake1337 at 6:55 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I also have trouble conversing with people who take forever to get to the point.

This is so unimaginably torturous, oh my god. It's also why I cannot bear to make small talk.
posted by elizardbits at 8:05 AM on April 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I also have trouble conversing with people who take forever to get to the point. I have to bite my tongue. My mother is one of these people.

One thing that I discovered doesn't work is getting up and doing other stuff while these people are talking. You can tell them you're listening, and mean it (I always do), but for some reason they never believe you.
posted by invitapriore at 8:33 AM on April 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was diagnosed as an adult with a clear history going back to early childhood (ADD, no hyperactivity). A few specific details:

I was a very friendly kid who constantly missed social cues and irritated other kids. I still miss social cues, but I'm very aware of it now, so I just try not to talk too much in social situations, because I'll miss the body language asking me to shut up. It's hard because I like to talk, but it's nice to feel welcome in a group.

I can't stand department stores. My mother remembers that I would get glassy-eyed and cranky and overstimulated and she'd have to pull me out before I freaked out or shut down. Small stores, no problem, but department stores were and are just nightmares of Too Much Stuff.

I was obsessed with our piano and would play it for hours. I would lose track of time. I couldn't stand piano lessons, only playing by ear or improvising. I would also hyperfocus on sports (skiing, riding, tennis) and my computer. Being pulled away was like being woken up.

Teachers really mattered to me. I could get through a class with a teacher I liked. I failed classes with teachers I didn't like. I studied biology in college and took different routes to solve word problems than the rest of the class. Once I explained my work, it was fine, but I just didn't seem to think like everyone else. I needed many, many years and two schools to finish college.

I'm easily overwhelmed. I dropped out of biochemistry because my professor asked us to write up an explanation of how nitrites keep red meat red. I didn't know where to start, so I quit.

I am usually late. I almost never know how I end up late. One minute I'm fine, the next minute I'm late.

I've learned to manage some basic problems with gadgets and rituals. I have an outgoing-mail hanger on my apartment doorknob; I put the envelopes in so they block the doorknob slightly. I hang my keys on the back of the door every time I come in. I rely on my iCal and iPhone calendar to alert me to appointments. I put on my watch as soon as I start getting ready to go out so the time is right there on my wrist. Still, lots of things are slipping by, and I'm planning to go back on meds soon.
posted by swerve at 10:33 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


My husband takes the last ice cubes out of the tray and puts the empty trays back in the freezer.
posted by desjardins at 1:46 PM on April 19, 2012


Others have mentioned many things that resonate with me, so I'll contribute a couple that I don't think have yet been mentioned:

The way I've always described having ADD to people is that in elementary school, it was like everyone else was getting a secret set of instructions that I wasn't getting access to.

When I would sit down to do assignments, I would come to some point in a problem where I would get stuck, and that would cause my thoughts to wander, and ten minutes later I would realize I'd been sitting there daydreaming, look down at the problem and see that I was still stuck. Sometimes that would start a whole new cycle of daydreaming.

I was in a gifted program, but I could not for the life of me remember things like permission slips and long-term assignments. I would always have great ideas for long-term projects at the moment they were assigned, but because of my ADD, I didn't know how to tackle something huge like that a step at a time. So I would put them off and put them off - I had terrible procrastination problems.

My mom remembers very clearly the morning she was driving me to school and I said I had a long-term assignment due that morning. Most parents would have hit the roof in a situation like that, but this was truly a triumph for me, because my mom was totally used to the first time she heard about long-term assignments being my teacher calling a month after they were due. "That's good that you told me, Jocelyn," she said. "Next time, let's talk about it before the assignment is due."

To this day, I have trouble remembering more than one thing in succession - like if I tell myself, "Okay, finish brushing your teeth and then take the bottle of pills out of the medicine cabinet and bring it with you into the next room." By the time my teeth are brushed, the pills are totally forgotten about, and I don't realize I've forgotten them until something reminds me of them much later. It's enormously frustrating - I've had this problem all my life, and it's never really gotten better.

I have been known to say that I can get distracted in the middle of putting on my socks, and sadly that is not an exaggeration.
posted by jocelmeow at 2:28 PM on April 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Here's my archetypical, personal experience.

Soon after I first started taking Adderall, I started practicing drums in Rock Band on Pro Mode, an hour a practice session. I was really practicing, not just playing the game: playing the same riffs over and over to get them right, that sort of thing.

Shortly thereafter I had a problem with my pharmacy and had to go without for a couple days. I felt "fuzzy," but not terrible. However, when I tried to practice drums the same way I had been doing, it was torturous. I stuck it out for the full hour but by the end I was exhausted, upset and ANGRY at having to pay attention to just one repetitive thing for so long. It was like a completely different task, going from pretty fun but occasionally frustrating to utterly unbearable.
posted by lore at 3:37 PM on April 20, 2012


Interesting answers!

I found several more answers from the other thread linked to above:


--"I end things with etc. because writing the whole list is boring"

--"when I try to tell stories, I just start verbally wandering, and when I'm done, I don't even know what I was talking about" (This is why I can't play Taboo!)

--not being able to watch/pay attention to movies
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 9:42 PM on April 21, 2012


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