Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder known as ADHD is a neurobiological disorder characterized by inappropriate impulsivity, inattention and, possibly, hyperactivity. It’s possible that this often-misunderstood condition may be interfering with your employees’ productivity.
Many people believe that ADHD is a condition that only affects children and that it is a condition that is connected more with disruptive students in classrooms than with people at work. But that view is not entirely accurate, says James Schuster, M.D., MBA, chief medical officer for Community Care, a behavioral health organization that is part of the UPMC Insurance Services Division.
“ADHD is a well-known problem for some school-age children, but many times, its existence in adults is overlooked,” Schuster says. “It’s important to understand that ADHD in adults is not a rare condition.”
Smart Business spoke with Schuster about ADHD in adults, its impact in the workplace and how best to treat it.
Why isn’t ADHD seen as a condition that affects adults?
Because hyperactivity diminishes as people mature, people used to believe that the condition only affected children. However, many symptoms continue into adulthood. It is a disorder that resolves for some people as they mature, but for some, the condition continues well into adulthood. Statistics show that two-thirds of all adults who had ADHD as a child still have it as adults. Approximately 3 to 5 percent of adults have it to some degree.
While there is no cure for ADHD, it can be properly diagnosed and there are treatments that have been proven effective for most people with the disorder.
What are some symptoms of ADHD?
Symptoms may include: inattentiveness, problems with self-control and any sense of responsibility, time management and organization difficulties, restlessness and impulsiveness. Adults with ADHD also have problems with relationships with others, including spouses.
Not everyone with ADHD exhibits all of the symptoms, nor does everyone with the condition have the same level of severity or impairment. Some cases can be mild, others severe.
Why is ADHD an issue for employers?
The impact of adults with ADHD can show up in the workplace. Often, employees who are affected by it have trouble concentrating on a task or have trouble completing tasks. Their organizational skills are often poor. Employees may also have trouble establishing relationships with co-workers or may say inappropriate things without thinking them through.
Why is ADHD sometimes difficult to diagnose in adults?
For one thing, there is no single, simple test that can determine if a person has ADHD. Second, the hyperactivity that often helps with the diagnosis in children is usually not present in adults. An accurate diagnosis can be made only by a trained clinician after an evaluation. Some primary care physicians who treat adults do not have significant experience with ADHD diagnosis and treatment.
People who wonder about whether they have ADHD can gather some information by completing questionnaires or by studying lists of symptoms. A good Internet site for information about ADHD resources in local areas is Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, www.chadd.org. If you suspect you may have ADHD, you should talk with your physician or a behavioral health specialist about your condition.
How can an employer know if an employee has ADHD?
You can’t be certain about an employee’s condition without a thorough evaluation. If an employer is concerned that an employee may have ADHD, it can employ the services of an EAP (employee assistance program).
EAP specialists usually have experience with ADHD, can screen for the disorder and can recommend a more extensive examination when indicated.
Because adults who have ADHD may not know that they have it, they may think of themselves as lazy or have low self-esteem. If they are properly diagnosed, they may find relief in knowing that there is a reason for their actions and that help may be possible. It can often make a very significant difference in their personal and professional lives.
What are the most effective ways to treat ADHD?
A comprehensive, team approach to ADHD is considered the best treatment for adults. The treatment team would consist of the person with the condition, several health care professionals, a spouse or significant other and other people close to the employee.
Types of treatments could include behavioral therapy, medication, support and education, including marital and individual support groups and skill training.
Stimulants are the most common medications used in ADHD treatment in adults. They have been shown to help with focus and reduction of hyperactivity. Because they are short-acting (lasting less than 12 hours a day), because of their status as controlled substances and the potential side effects, their use requires close collaboration between the employee and his or her physician.
James Schuster, M.D., MBA, is chief medical officer at Community Care Behavioral Health Organization, UPMC Insurance Services Division. Reach him at (412) 454-2153 or email@example.com.