“How do you know whether you have ADHD (ADD)?”

—Boca Raton, Florida

To clear up some confusion: ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is an older term that’s no longer in clinical use but was common until the late 1980s. The same condition is now known as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), with sub-categories based on which traits are the most prominent.

The first step in finding out whether you have ADHD is to see a clinician, preferably a psychiatrist or psychologist who specializes in neurodevelopmental conditions. ADHD is a medical diagnosis, and if you have it, you will probably want to work with your doctor to treat it. Your primary care physician may be comfortable handling your routine care, such as prescription refills if you take medication for ADHD.

ADHD is a common condition. It’s characterized by the inability to pay attention, impulsivity, and/or hyperactivity. These issues do not come and go. A person typically has a history of these problems, which affect their daily functioning, though people may learn to compensate for those issues over time.

A health professional who evaluates you for ADHD will likely ask you to fill out some rating scales about your behavioral traits. The results will help determine whether the behaviors are a way of life or are just occasional.

Common signs of inattention:
  • Inability to stay focused, especially when a task may be long and boring
  • Failing to pay attention to details, leading to mistakes
  • Difficulty listening when someone is speaking to you
  • Being disorganized and losing things
  • Having difficulty following through on assignments and tasks
Signs of hyperactivity:
  • Inability to sit still
  • Difficulty performing quiet, sedentary activities
  • Talking nonstop
Signs of impulsivity:
  • Impatience or difficulty waiting
  • Talking or taking actions without thinking of the consequences
  • Interrupting others’ conversations

The main thing to remember is that these issues have to have been happening for a significant amount of time. We all have times when we don’t pay attention, or we lose things, or we fidget; that doesn’t mean we have ADHD. But if these indicators have been a part of your life for months or years, you might want to check with your doctor. Treatment for ADHD includes medication, environmental changes (such as creating a routine or limiting distractions), and academic accommodations.