Tell-Tale Signs of Adult ADHD

Finding the path to whole-life success
By Dr. Kevin Ross Emery

High-profile celebrities like NBC’s The Voice judge Adam Levine, TV news broadcasters like Phoenix-based Kaley O’Kelley, and others like “The ADHD CEO” Greg Selkoe are now publicly “owning” their ADHD diagnosis. This raises many questions: How does one know if they have adult ADHD—what are the signs? Can problems with punctuality, organization, and focus be due to adult ADHD or are these difficulties simply related to stress or other lifestyle issues? Is adult ADHD sabotaging your career, business, or relationship? Can ADHD actually manifest itself later in life after a diagnosis-free childhood?

I applaud initiatives like the “Own It” Project that are encouraging adults to recognize and even embrace their ADHD, and get real answers to these and other important questions.

You don’t truly outgrow ADHD. Instead you can hopefully learn how to better understand, work with, and manage both the gifts and the drawbacks of ADHD. In some cases the individual finds passions, talents, and gifts and, through hyper-focusing into them, becomes enormously successful. Of course it doesn’t always go so well—another person may struggle with addiction issues, low self-worth, self-esteem issues, end up in the penal system, or never “get their act together,” living far beneath their potential. Others simply find someone else who is perfectly happy to manage their life for them and find a career perfectly suited for them.

To speak of outgrowing ADHD is like saying I am going to outgrow having blue eyes or brown hair—it is simply part of the package. (ADHD individuals do tend to be late bloomers in certain areas—this is even more noticeable in boys with ADHD as boys tend to be late bloomers anyway.) Some of the most troublesome childhood ADHD symptoms get mediated as people physiologically “catch up” to their peers, but nevertheless, emotional and psychological damage is often done. Children live with the stigma of not fitting in, of “never living up to their potential,” and never understanding why they are different or made to feel like a failure. Both diagnosed and not-diagnosed ADHD children often carry these and other issues into adulthood.

The following things may have been present in your childhood, which allowed you as a child to slip through the ADHD loop:

• You were a visual learner

• You went to a cutting-edge school, or maybe a smaller, high-quality school system

• You were fed a better diet

• You had parents who knew how to support you and recognized all the gifts that came along with those things that would have gotten you labeled and refused to go for the label.

• You had at least one consistent loving adult raising you through your first several years of life who had the ability to recognize the things you need to succeed and made sure you got them.

Whatever the reason, you may be living with tell-tale signs of adult ADHD which can include these traits, both negative and positive:

• Organizationally challenged

• Trouble starting and finishing projects

• Miss social cues

• Difficulty being subtle

• Hyper-focused to the point of losing track of time

• Multitasks to the point of distraction

• Does not work well in traditional workplace setting

• Marital troubles

• Poor listening skills

• Chronic lateness

• Angry outbursts

• Trouble prioritizing

• Gets bored easily

• Naturally rebellious

• Addictive personality

• Tendency towards self-medicating

• High energy

• Highly creative

• Good problem solver, innovator, inventor

• When interested, love to learn, share, and teach new things

There are untold millions of adults who were never diagnosed in childhood and are dealing with ADHD symptoms in an unproductive manner. The result is unhappy, underutilized lives that are not harnessing the incredible potential that comes with the ‘gift’ of ADHD. With proper self-awareness and management, there are many ways adult ADHD can prove beneficial. For those with the condition, it’s key to recognize the upside in order to be genuinely happy and succeed at home and at work.

And “quick fix” medications need not apply now that there are so many other methods available to help ADHD adults realize whole-life success. Knowledge is power, and a proper adult ADHD diagnosis is necessary to manage the condition and actually realize the many gifts ADHD has to offer the individual—and society at large.

I view ADHD as an evolutionary process that broadens the bandwidth of humanity—it is something we should celebrate rather than stifle. However well intended, society’s collective attempts to medically treat and otherwise manage ADHD individuals, often ends up hurting their self-esteem and significantly hindering their ability to reach their full potential. Indeed, the stakes are high when it comes to finding a successful treatment plan.

Those who have difficulties managing the condition—or who face criticism for perceived laziness and bad behavior—can face a lifetime of emotional problems that can manifest themselves in problematic personal relationships and career misfortunes. Unfortunately, this population’s insights, brilliance, and creativity—their unique gifts—are typically sacrificed in order to help them “fit in” to society.

Instead, we should celebrate and nurture those children and adults living with ADHD as they are so that they can, in turn, love and respect themselves and realize their full capabilities … to the benefit of us all.


Dr. Kevin Ross Emery is an international speaker and the author of Managing the Gift of your ADD/HD Child and Managing the Gift: Alternative Approaches to Attention Deficit Disorder. Both build upon more than 14 years of experience working with individuals of all ages living with attention deficit disorder and a lifetime of personal experience with the condition. He may be reached online at