Adult ADHD

Adult ADHD: It’s not just a childhood disorder

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is often seen as a student problem with the vast majority of diagnoses being made during formalized schooling. In South Africa, the prevalence of ADHD is estimated at between 5 and 10% of the population meaning that in a high school with a student body of approximately 900, as many as 90 students struggle with the disorder.

What happens to those students when they eventually graduate from secondary and tertiary institutes and move into the world of work? The research is clear that for the vast majority of individuals with ADHD, their symptoms will continue indefinitely. In my practice over the past year, I have seen an influx of adults with suspected ADHD come in for a consultation or assessment. It appears that many of the symptoms these individuals struggle with was simply not picked up while at school.

The possible reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, while ADHD-like symptoms were first described in the early 20th century, our understanding of the disorder has trailed behind. Ritalin, the most widely used medication to treat ADHD was first used in the 1950’s and it wasn’t until the 1980’s when ADHD (called ADD at the time) was first described in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of mental health Disorders.

In the 1990’s, the cases of ADHD steadily rose for various reasons such as better diagnostically efficacy and greater awareness from parents and children. However, in comparison with today the number of diagnoses was significantly below current levels supporting the notion that many adults completed school undiagnosed.

Linked to lower levels of understanding is the notion that many teachers in the past may have labelled ADHD students as being lazy, uninterested or disruptive without understanding the root causes of why they appear this way. ADHD is misunderstood today despite a wealth of knowledge on the subject so it is not difficult to understand that teachers working through the 80’s and 90’s in a time before the internet, lacked the insight and knowledge to see past the surface symptoms.  

Nonetheless for many of these adults, they have learnt to adjust and cope with their symptoms as a normal part of their every day lives. For others, the struggles continue and can be a great source of shame, dysfunction and distress. For those who find themselves in the latter of these two groups it is important to know that it is never too late to have an assessment and embark on the journey of healing. One however must be mindful of “15 minute” sessions in which you are diagnosed by a practitioner who may not specialize in this area. A good assessment should be thorough and take into account all relevant aspects in order to make a definitive diagnosis. If possible, they should also include a quantitative assessment in support the findings.

Ultimately, a diagnosis is the starting point from which a treatment plan should emerge. For this reason, its important your practitioner is able to guide you in this aspect.


Dayne Williams is an educational psychologist in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town with a special interest in adult and adolescent ADHD. For more information on assessments please get in tough through

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.