How to Diagnose ADHD in Adults

Table of Contents

What is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental disorder characterized by hyperactivity, trouble concentrating, and impulsive behaviors. Oftentimes, ADHD is diagnosed in childhood when a child is showcasing behavioral issues at school. However, some cases of ADHD may not be diagnosed until adulthood. Approximately 2.5% of U.S. adults struggle with ADHD. Adult ADHD is often underdiagnosed because adult ADHD symptoms are more difficult to spot. However, adult ADHD can still cause many issues in someone’s life which is why an accurate ADHD diagnosis is so important to provide proper treatment.    


Attention deficit disorder (ADD) is a form of ADHD. The main difference between the two is that ADD is more internal and the symptoms do not involve hyperactivity. Those who struggle with ADD are often seen as daydreamers who may zone out often, seem to not be paying attention when spoken to, and have trouble staying focused. When someone struggles with ADD, they are more likely to go undiagnosed due to the internal nature of many of the symptoms   

Statistics on ADHD

The statistics about ADHD can shed some light on why it is so important that this disorder is properly treated.  

ADHD in Children

ADHD can affect a child’s life in many ways. Some statistics about ADHD in children include that:


  • 6.1 million children (9.4%) have ever been diagnosed with ADHD
  • Two-thirds of all children diagnosed with ADHD have a co-occurring condition
  • One out of three children diagnosed with ADHD experiences anxiety problems
  • Half of all children with an ADHD diagnosis have a history of behavioral or conduct problems
  • Less than half of children with an ADHD diagnosis receive behavioral treatment 1

ADHD in Adults

Adult ADHD symptoms can affect someone’s life in many ways. Some statistics about adult ADHD include that:


  • In over half of all ADHD cases, the symptoms will continue into adulthood. However, adults with ADHD may not receive a proper ADHD diagnosis.
  • 48% of adults who meet the criteria for ADHD may fail to have a conversation about their symptoms with a healthcare provider.
  • Approximately half of all adults with an ADHD diagnosis also suffer from an anxiety disorder.
  • 62% of all adults with an ADHD diagnosis are men compared to 38% of women diagnosed with ADHD.

Types of ADHD

Different types of ADHD can affect the type of symptoms someone may experience. The three types of ADHD are inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive, and combination type.

Inattentive ADHD

Inattentive ADHD, also known as ADD, is a more internal type of ADHD. People who experience inattentive ADHD will likely be less hyperactive, but they will be more prone to zoning out, trouble concentrating, and forgetfulness. This type of ADHD can often go undiagnosed because it can be confused with other disorders or seem like less of an issue. However, inattentive ADHD symptoms can still affect someone’s life in many ways.         

Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD

Hyperactive-impulsive ADHD is characterized by hyperactivity, an inability to sit still, and having trouble completing quiet tasks. Those who struggle with this type of ADHD will often experience more behavioral problems and be seen as more impulsive. 

Combination Type

Combination type ADHD is a combination of both inattentive ADHD and hyperactive-impulsive ADHD. Those who are diagnosed with this type of ADHD will experience roughly an even number of symptoms between the two types. Many people assume that this form of ADHD is the most severe, but the severity of combination type ADHD will depend on the individual and the symptoms they experience. 

What are the Symptoms of ADHD?

At times, adult ADHD can be difficult to spot. However, knowing what ADHD signs to look for can help identify it so that someone struggling can receive the proper treatment.

Inattentive ADHD Symptoms

Common inattentive ADHD symptoms in adults are:


  • Avoiding tasks that require long periods of mental focus
  • Not appearing to be listening when spoken to
  • Being easily distracted
  • Forgetting to do routine chores (pay bills, return phone calls, keeping appointments, etc.)
  • Making careless mistakes while doing other tasks
  • Trouble following directions
  • Trouble staying focused at work
  • Trouble staying organized 2

Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD Symptoms

Common hyperactive-impulsive ADHD symptoms in adults are:
  • Disorganization and problems prioritizing
  • Excessive activity or restlessness
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Impulsive behaviors
  • Low frustration tolerance
  • Problems focusing on a task
  • Trouble coping with stress
  • Trouble multitasking 3

Combination Type Symptoms

Common symptoms of combination-type ADHD in adults are:


  • Avoiding tasks that require a lot of mental effort
  • Easily distracted by external events
  • Feelings of restlessness and trouble staying still
  • Making mistakes due to problems paying attention
  • Nonstop talking or speaking out of turn
  • Not appearing to listen during conversations
  • Trouble following through on instructions 4
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ADHD Presentations

ADHD presentations determine what type of ADHD is presented in an individual based on their symptoms of ADHD. To determine the ADHD presentation, an ADHD test will be administered by a medical professional. The most common ADHD test is the DSM-5 which lists three presentations of ADHD: predominantly inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive, and combined. Determining the symptoms of ADHD based on the presentations helps develop an ADHD treatment plan and ADHD medication that may be used.

Combined Presentation

Someone with the combined presentation meets the criteria for both inattention and hyperactive-impulsive presentations. This type usually results in someone having roughly an equal number of symptoms from each one.

Predominantly Inattentive Presentation

If someone meets the requirements for the predominantly inattentive presentation, they will experience at least five of the following symptoms:

  • Avoids or dislikes tasks requiring sustained mental effort
  • Does not appear to listen
  • Fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes
  • Has difficulty sustaining attention
  • Has difficulty with organization
  • Is easily distracted
  • Is forgetful in daily activities
  • Loses things
  • Struggles to follow instructions

Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation

Someone who meets the requirements for the hyperactive-impulsive presentation will experience at least five of the following symptoms:
  • Acts as if driven by a motor; adults will often feel inside as if they are driven by a motor
  • Blurts out answers
  • Difficulty engaging in activities quietly
  • Difficulty waiting or taking turns
  • Fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in chair
  • Has difficulty remaining seated
  • Interrupts or intrudes upon others
  • Runs about or climbs excessively, extreme restlessness in adults
  • Talk excessively 5

Brain Mapping for ADHD

What is Brain Mapping?

Brain mapping is a neurofeedback technique that can be used for evaluating brain waves and identifying opportunities to improve communication between different parts of the brain.

Types of Brain Scans

Three types of brain scans may be used to create an image of the brain’s activity. The three types of brain scans are computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and positive emission tomography (PET).

Diagnosing ADHD with Brain Mapping

Scientific studies have shown that people who struggle with ADHD have either hyperactivity or lack of signals traveling to certain parts of the brain. By doing a brain scan, medical professionals can accurately make an ADHD diagnosis by evaluating the brain waves through brain mapping. Using brain scans can lead to a more accurate ADHD diagnosis that will allow medical professionals to provide the best possible ADHD treatment. 6