Talk a lot, tend to be distracted, and been told you might have adult ADHD? But then wonder how this ADD you see mentioned is different? Or has someone suggested you might have autism instead? And you are just, well... confused?

ADHD in adults

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not just something that affects children. Although if you do have ADHD as an adult, the truth is that you also had it when you were young. It doesn't just arrive later in life.

It's just that some kids find ways to compensate and hide symptoms. They go undiagnosed, until the stressors of adult life make symptoms unavoidably clear.

Symptoms of adult ADHD

The three main signs of ADHD in adults are the same as those for children. They are:

But you can actually not have much hyperactivity and still have ADHD.

The three ways you can have ADHD

It is now understood that some people have what’s called ‘primarily inattentive’ ADHD. This means that instead of being hyper, you are more prone to dreaminess and being distracted.

Perhaps as a kid you were the sort lost in thought, staring out the window when the teacher talked.

This new understanding explains how many girls went undiagnosed, only discovering their ADHD as women.

The other two types of ADHD diagnosis are ‘primarily hyperactive’, and ‘combined type’, which means you clearly have all symptoms.


It would be logical to think that attention deficit disorder, or “ADD”, is the current diagnosis if you are primarily inattentive. Right? Not so.

ADD is actually just an outdated American term. It was the only term in use when the disorder first became popular and became an official diagnosis. It then changed to ADHD.

These days an official diagnosis, regardless if you are primarily inattentive or not, will be “ADHD”. ADD is used non officially, and some people prefer it as it seems more accurate to their symptoms. But the current diagnosis is ADHD.

Symptoms of hyperactivity in adults

Before you feel annoyed about the ‘H’ because you are convinced that isn’t you? As you have no hyperactivity at all? Note that hyperactivity can manifest far differently in adults than children.

Far from meaning you are boisterous, it can look like:

  • talking fast and interrupting others without meaning to
  • having whirling thoughts you can hardly keep up with
  • always being busy and rushing from one thing to the next
  • fidgeting often, such as moving your hands or shaking your leg
  • having a tendency to speed when you drive
  • never being one to sit down for long without feeling restless.

Over focussing

Another symptom of adult ADHD that isn’t apparent when learning the core signs is called over focussing.

While you will be easily distracted, struggle to finish things, or even forget what you were doing half the time? You will also sometimes drop into such a deep over focus you lose track of time and all other priorities.

The issue with this is that ADHD types tend to over focus on entirely the wrong things. With a big school deadline looming, for example, you can suddenly spend the entire day reorganising your wardrobe. Before realising it’s evening, and you haven’t started your research.

Then what about autism?

Autism might feel so far removed from ADHD you don't understand the comparison.

But autism spectrum disorder (ASD) represents a truly wide variety of behavioural profiles (the clue is in the word spectrum). Some people have less obvious versions of autism, what can be called ‘high functioning’ or ‘mild’ autism. (Note these are not always terms loved by the autistic community who feels this implies others are more ‘flawed’).

ADHD vs autism

One shared symptom is that over focussing. With autism the focus is more rigid. You’d have an interest you are passionate about, and spend hours researching it or engaging with it or talking about it. Even if you are boring those around you.

Another shared symptom is sensory sensitivity. While it's a well known symptom o ASD, it's lesser known that people with ADHD can also report being very sensitive to lights, colours, noise, and touch.

Then there is the tendency to not fit in socially. If your ADHD means that you constantly interrupt others and aren’t a great listener, you could be mistaken as having Asperger’s, which can also manifest as talking over others.

So how do I know which one is me?

There are autism and ADHD quizzes you can try on the internet, sure.

But the only real way to know is to have a professional diagnosis with a psychiatrist, or a psychologist with special training meaning they are qualified to diagnose.

ADHD assessment or ADHD coaching?

A private adult ADHD assessment can be prohibitively expensive for some, and it can be hard to get an appointment with the NHS. If it isn't possible for you to get a diagnosis right now, it doesn't mean you can't start getting help.

An ADHD coach, or a talk therapist with an ADHD speciality, can help you find ways to cope with your symptoms. You can also learn how to navigate relationships better and raise your self-esteem.

Time to stop feeling so alone with your ADHD symptoms? Use our easy booking tool to find an ADHD expert who can help.

Andrea M. Darcy is a health writer and therapy coach who has been diagnosed with ADHD since young but sometimes has people ask if she's on the spectrum because she easily goes into sensory overload! Find her on Instagram @am_darcy

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