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Why did I "get" ADHD as an Adult?

At You Matter Psychologists, a large part of what we do is assess adult clients for neurodevelopmental disorders such as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (or ADHD).

The way we do this is through cognitive testing (standardised testing to find out how the brain does what it does); and a whole lot of subjective reporting (how does the client come across to others?).Something to keep in mind though, is that we don’t “catch” ADHD. Part of the diagnostic criteria is that symptoms were present in primary school years. So how is it that ADHD can go undetected until adulthood? I am so glad you asked.

Everyone has a stress threshold – an imaginary coffee cup, if you will. That cup can hold a certain amount of coffee. Sometimes there isn’t enough in there, and it just does not work (I paid $5 for half a coffee!?) and other times, it is just right, made to order (like my morning instant). In these two scenarios, one is ideal; one is less than ideal. But even with the less than ideal – we can manage and top up if we need to. However, the other thing that can happen is that we completely zone out (cue the sneaky ADHD reference) and keep pouring our coffee and next minute – BOOM - you have coffee all over the bench and floor and your nice shirt and you dissolve into a hot mess of tears.

My point is, once we surpass our stress threshold then things tend to fall apart. We forget simple things; feel flustered; have trouble concentrating on simple things; our brains are always going; we misplace things; and perhaps most pervasively – zone out at terribly inconvenient times. All our executive functions go by the wayside. Why does this happen later in life? Because when we are younger, with a certain level of intelligence we can just wing it and although we might find things hard, we work out ways to mitigate it. However, once the demands on us surpass our ability to cope, the wheels tend to fall off the wagon because our brains have no other way of dealing with them – just like our coffee cup can only hold a certain amount of jitter juice.

When given the option, our brains will always default to doing whatever they need to in order to survive, over remembering the cake you were supposed to buy for that lady at work. This is why so many clients who are diagnosed with ADHD later in life feel like they are on autopilot (because they are).

So if you have made it into adulthood relatively unscathed, then suddenly feel like you’re losing your mind, chances are that there is more to the story.It might be worth coming in for a chat to see if there is more to uncover, and to help you #bemorethanwhoyouare.

If you are interested in discussing any of the points further, we would be more than happy to hear from you. Feel free to send an email to and we will answer any questions you may have.


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