Parents and doctors have known about childhood ADHD – attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder – for decades, but it is only recently that the medical field has started to recognize, diagnose and seriously study ADHD in adults. In this episode of The Conversation Weekly podcast, we explore what adult ADHD looks like, how it is diagnosed today and the many new treatments available to help those with the disorder live better lives.
The name attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is a pretty good description of this common condition, but it can manifest in a few different ways. Some people only struggle with paying attention, some people can focus on tasks but are constantly fidgeting or dealing with excessive energy and some people exhibit both attention problems and hyperactivity. But for those who study ADHD, it is how these symptoms affect people’s daily lives that is most important.
Tamara May is a senior research fellow at Monash University in Australia. She says that ADHD “affects the way our executive functions work. These are things like how we pay attention, how we sort of moderate ourselves, how we plan and organize, time management and how we switch attention.” As May explains, many people with ADHD are forgetful and bad at time management and these issues can affect many aspects of daily life. “It means that you underachieved academically or you had to drop out. It means that your interpersonal relationships are impacted, you can’t maintain friendships or you’re heavily relying on a partner to do all your organizing.”
Thankfully, as awareness of adult ADHD has grown, so has the body of knowledge on how to treat it, both with drugs and also with behavioral therapy. Laura Knouse is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Richmond in the U.S. and studies how therapy can help adults with ADHD. She says that, according to most recent research, the best nonmedication treatments “fall under this umbrella of something we call cognitive behavioral therapy. I like to simplify that and just say a skills-based treatment, a treatment that’s going to help you figure out how to structure your environment and how to structure your time and develop the strategies that you’re going to need to make your goals real, even in the presence of having ADHD in your life.”
In the full episode of the podcast, we talk in depth with Knouse about what these therapies are, how they work in concert with medication and what’s next for treatments. Then we end the episode with Tamara May, digging into how perceptions of adult ADHD – both within medicine and culture more generally – have changed in recent years, and what it means for those who have it.
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This episode was produced by Mend Mariwany, with sound design by Eloise Stevens. Our theme music is by Neeta Sarl. You can find us on Twitter @TC_Audio, on Instagram at theconversationdotcom or via email. You can also sign up to The Conversation’s free daily email here.