A growing awareness of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in adults has sparked a national conversation among medical experts and politicians about how people with the condition can receive better care.
It comes amid a spike in the number of Australian adults seeking a diagnosis after experiencing ADHD symptoms, such as inattentiveness and forgetfulness, that they may have ignored for years.
About 2 to 3 per cent of adults are diagnosed with ADHD, despite the condition beginning in childhood, according to the Australian Psychological Society. Symptoms typically improve as children get older, but about 15 per cent continue to have ADHD as adults.
Public figures who have discovered they have adult ADHD later in life – including Australian comedian Em Rusciano – have helped drive increasing recognition of the neurodevelopment condition.
“The message should not be that the neurodivergent community are lacking or less than, but that we are different and equally worthy,” Rusciano told the National Press Club in Canberra in a powerful address in August.
“When we are not forced to try to fit into a framework and societal structure that was built for people who aren’t like us, we can be pretty impressive!”
Peter (last name withheld) was 29 when he was diagnosed with adult ADHD in 2019. But he had suspected it for up to a year earlier.
Knowing he has adult ADHD has been a big change for Peter.
“Nearly every aspect of my life [has changed], including my career choice, relationships – who I choose to spend time with and how – and my sleep routines,” Peter said.
“I’ve changed my environment for sensory reasons and I’m now taking my mental health seriously and getting treatment.
“I have a stronger sense of self-identity and personal confidence. It’s also given me closure and understanding about my past being able to see my past through the lens of ADHD.”
More adults find they have ADHD because their symptoms were not identified in childhood. Monash University psychologist and research associate Dr Tamara May wants to change that.
“Some people with ADHD, particularly with mostly inattentive symptoms don’t get identified in childhood, because the symptoms are more internal and less noticeable,” she said.
“They don’t have clinically significant hyperactive-impulsive symptoms. These symptoms would usually be noticed in a child because they are overtly active, climbing on things and not able to sit still when expected, which can disrupt learning and daily life.”
Earlier in October the Australian ADHD Professionals Association released guidelines to help GPs, paediatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists and allied health professionals can recognise symptoms.
Dr May, the project manager of the Australian Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guideline, said the it would act as a roadmap for health professionals to help them offer people with ADHD the best treatment.
“People with ADHD and their families should be offered best-practice diagnosis and evidence-based treatments, no matter where they are in Australia or which mental-health service they attend. The guideline will help enable this,” Dr May said.
“We hope more awareness and in particular, the new Australian ADHD guideline, will result in uniform evidenced-based and best-practice care for people with ADHD.
“It will mean people will be picked up early and get treatment early preventing negative life outcomes.”