Frequently Asked Questions

There are a few questions that seem to come up over and over (and over) again. Since Tumblr’s search capabilities leave a lot to be desired, and since our tags page is incomplete (and who wants to try and figure out what the tags would be anyhow), I’ve put together these pages to try and help people get answers more quickly. It will be updated periodically, both as new questions become popular and as new information becomes available.

Topics are in alphabetical order. Sample questions are in italics. Responses are bulleted. Hopefully this will make the pages easier to navigate.

About the Mods

Do you have ADHD? How old were you when you were diagnosed? What do you do to manage your ADHD?

  • J has ADHD. I was 28 when I was diagnosed, in February 2005. I was originally diagnosed with severe Combined type, though I usually say I have Inattentive type because that’s the type I relate to the most. I have used medication to manage my ADHD in the past, but currently I do not take meds. I have a system of to-do lists that keeps me on track, and sometimes I make accountability posts to my personal Tumblr. I use timers a lot when I’m cooking, and I rely on routines for certain tasks.
  • Elise has ADHD. I was home-diagnosed with ADHD by my mom when I was 7, but she left the choice of going to the doctor about it up to me. I didn’t think a diagnosis would help that much, so I made it to 17 before I broke down and got professional help. I was first diagnosed with Primarily Inattentive type, but in college I was rediagnosed with severe Combined type, and I think that fits me better. I am fairly hyperactive and impulsive, especially for a woman in her late twenties. Two of the reasons I’m a high school teacher are that I rarely have to sit down, and I get to talk all day! I currently take Provigil to manage my ADHD symptoms. I am also completely dependent on Google Calendar and Google Keep on my smart phone to remind me to do things. I absolutely use timers when I’m cooking, and I am terrible at controlling clutter in my apartment.
  • T has ADHD. I was diagnosed ADD when I was 6-7 years old. Within the past few years I have been re-diagnosed as ADHD-Combined, as well as general anxiety disorder (GAD). I have my Bachelors degree in Middle School Education with a concentration in science and literacy, so most education questions I can probably answer! I’m also a gamer, and overall nerd.
  • Auto has ADHD. I was diagnosed officially with ADHD-C and Bipolar II at 23. I work in the IT department at a university in Kentucky and literally do nothing but gush about my cats and rats and video games.
  • Prue has ADHD. I was diagnosed with ADHD Predominantly Inattentive type at age 12, in 2006. My diagnosis was the result of a six year crusade undertaken by my mum to find out what was wrong with her intelligent-but-average child. I wouldn’t be here without her unyielding support. I manage my ADHD with medication with 63mg of Concerta, 10mg of Ritalin, or 20mg Ritalin LA, depending on what my day demands of me. At university, I have provisions for additional time on assignments and exams which help me manage the organisational and processing speed deficits of my condition. I also pour a lot of time and effort (too much probably)into my studies at university, and I find that this dedication helps me maintain good grades, in spite of my ADHD. I also use calendars (both physical and digital), alarms and reminders to help me remember appointments, medication, and a myriad of other things.
  • Becca has ADHD. I got my ADHD Predominantly Inattentive diagnosis at 18. No one suspected it until I was 16, at which point I started researching it myself and subsequently got a professional diagnosis. I’m currently studying Psychology at university, but I’m interested in languages and programming as well, to the point where I usually spend way too much time researching that instead of studying. At the moment I’m taking Ritalin (30mg in the morning, 20mg after lunch) and generally improvising my way through life, which for the most part works well enough. I very much enjoy a tricky question about ADHD and abuse my university resources by finding all the articles and studies I can about an unfamiliar topic.

ADHD

What is the difference between ADD and ADHD?

  • North America: In the DSM-III, the disorder was called ADD; in 1994, in the DSM-IV, that was changed to ADHD, and it was split into three different types. So basically, the term “ADD” is old terminology that we don’t use anymore. However, most people who use this term mean Inattentive ADHD, or “ADHD without the H” (H meaning “hyperactivity”). The current edition of the DSM, the DSM-5, retains the three types.
  • The ICD-10 is the diagnostic manual used in the rest of the world, and it still has a diagnosis of ADD included while also using ADHD for Hyperactive ADHD. We don’t know when the next edition will be published or if this will be changed at all.
  • Note that as the founder of this blog is located in Canada, we follow the DSM-5 for discussions of type and diagnosis. However, it should likewise be noted that the ICD-10 is used in most of the rest of the world, especially in Europe.

What are the types of ADHD?

  • ADHD – Primarily Inattentive Type is what most people mean when they say “ADD.” It is characterized by “daydreaming” and difficulty focusing on things that are important to focus on.
  • ADHD – Primarily Hyperactive/Impulsive Type is what most people think of when they hear “ADHD.” It is characterized by physically hyperactive behaviours and impulsive behaviours, like moving around a lot and talking without thinking first.
  • ADHD – Combined Type is just what it says: it’s a combination of symptoms from both of the other two types.
  • Having a diagnosis of Inattentive type does not mean you won’t show symptoms of Hyperactive/Impulsive type, and vice versa. The diagnostic criteria states that you must have at least six symptoms (or five if you’re 17 or older) listed for a particular type, and Combined type is considered to be an even split of symptoms from the other two types (meaning at least five or six symptoms – depending on age – per type, so 10 or 12 total).

What are the symptoms of ADHD?

  • Check out this post for links to the current and previous symptoms!
  • ADHD has been known as many different things over the years, including “minimal brain dysfunction” and “attention deficit disorder with and without hyperactivity.” The current name is “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)” and the three types as described above.
  • Something that isn’t in the DSM and you can’t really be diagnosed with is called a “shadow syndrome.” This is basically a situation where you display the symptoms of a disorder but they don’t cause any disruption in your life – or at least, not enough for you to qualify for a diagnosis.

I have good grades, does this mean I can’t have ADHD?

  • Everyone say it with me: academic performance is not an indicator of ADHD. Certainly it can be an indicator, since executive dysfunction and hyperactivity and impulsive behaviours can have a big effect on your ability to complete assignments and participate adequately in class. However, if you are also gifted (common), or if you have Inattentive ADHD, then you will often fly under the radar and do well (or at least not poorly) academically, even though you struggle in some areas.

What is hyperfocus?

  • Hyperfocus is pretty much what it sounds like. “Hyper” means “lots of” and “focus” is self-explanatory. Basically, it’s what happens when we get sucked into an activity and lose awareness of pretty much everything else, including stuff like needing to eat or use the bathroom.
  • Not all ADHDers experience hyperfocus, but a lot of us do. It doesn’t matter what type of ADHD you have; it’s a general ADHD thing. In addition, some ADHDers are able to control what they hyperfocus on, but most of us have to figure out what kinds of things are most likely to trigger hyperfocus and save those activities for times when it will be okay to get “stuck” for a while.

What is the difference between hyperfocus, special interests, and hyperfixation?

  • As noted above, hyperfocus is a period of sustained focus, typically lasting for several hours. Special interests are things that you are really interested in, often to the point of obsession. A special interest can last for a day or even several years. Often you will hyperfocus on a special interest.
  • The term “hyperfixation” is a new term that is meant to be an umbrella term for things like hyperfocus, special interests, and perseveration. You can read more about it here.

Does ADHD go away when you get older?

  • That depends. Some studies show that yes, most people do “grow out” of ADHD; however, lots of us don’t. Since ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, it does make sense that some people would grow out of it; your brain is behind a bit to start and then it catches up.
  • One possibility with people who grow out of ADHD is that they’ve learned coping mechanisms that make it seem like they no longer have it, because their symptoms don’t cause them problems anymore. The studies mentioned above, however, are based on brain scans that show changes in the structures of the brains of those who grow out of ADHD.

Why is my ADHD worse?/Why doesn’t my medication work some days?/Does ADHD get worse with age?

  • We don’t know for sure why your ADHD might seem worse some days than others, but in general if you are not getting enough sleep, are not eating healthfully, are not exercising regularly, and/or are under a lot of stress, your symptoms will naturally be harder to manage.
  • This is the same with medication: it simply works better when all those other things are in alignment.
  • It’s not so much that ADHD gets worse with age as it is that life circumstances change and symptoms get harder to control. (Except for menopause. That definitely makes ADHD worse.)
  • As we know, stress, diet, exercise, and sleep all impact our symptoms. When any of these things is out of whack, our symptoms can become a lot harder to control. So when your life circumstances change – like you go away to college, or you change jobs, or you get married or have a baby – your symptoms will naturally be more difficult to manage.
  • This is why it’s so important to develop strategies to manage your symptoms and not just rely on medication to do the job. If you have systems in place to keep you on track and help you stay on top of things, you’re less likely to lose the thread when life happens.

Diagnosis/Self-Diagnosis

How do I get diagnosed with ADHD?

  • You should ask your doctor for a referral to a psychiatrist or psychologist who can assess you for ADHD. It’s best not to accept the results of one questionnaire that your doctor has you fill out; those are more for screening to see if further assessment is necessary.
  • The assessment itself depends on the professional you see. Typically there are a few components to a diagnosis: a questionnaire/screening tool; a computer test called the TOVA, where you click the mouse when you see something specific; and a variety of IQ and academic testing, which shows where your strengths and weaknesses are and can help indicate whether you fit the “ADHD profile.”
  • Not all assessments will use all of the components listed here. A questionnaire and a conversation (or series of conversations) with the clinician is also a legitimate diagnosis. One follower told us that they did a group interview and then did a paper test (they were a child when they were diagnosed)! The one time we’re sure a diagnosis is suspect is if you go to your doctor and say “I think I have ADHD” and the doctor then prescribes you medication without any further investigation.
  • Along those lines, it’s important to remember that a medication trial is not a legitimate method for diagnosing ADHD. Different medications work for different people at different doses, and some people who definitely have ADHD don’t respond to any medication at all. That’s why we have all these assessment tools.

How do I bring up the possibility of ADHD with my doctor?

  • Make a list (it’s okay to bring it with you to your appointment) of all of the ways your symptoms are negatively impacting your life. Be really specific and practical. For example, list “I’m always at least 15 minutes late for school, no matter what I do, and my teacher is locking me out of the class now” rather than “I’m late a lot.” Show your doctor the list, or talk about the things on your list, and ask if you can be referred to a specialist to be assessed for ADHD.
  • Some doctors won’t want to refer you for an ADHD diagnosis and will ask you unnecessary (ableist) questions about things like how you did in school when you were little and stuff like that. Hold firm. If they ask you about something that you know isn’t actually relevant and is based on ableist assumptions and stereotypes, ask why they want to know and say again that you would like a referral for an assessment.

What are the pros and cons of a formal diagnosis?

  • Pros: You can access ADHD-specific treatment, including medication and ADHD coaching, and you will qualify for accommodations at school and at work.
  • Cons: It can be very expensive and disclosing a formal diagnosis can lead to discrimination and just plain ignorant behaviour on others’ parts.

My parents don’t believe me/I don’t think my parents will believe me/How do I talk to my parents about getting diagnosed?

  • If you think your parents will have trouble with the idea of you having ADHD, or if they have already told you that you don’t have it, it can be helpful to approach them with a list of your symptoms and explanations of how and why they are causing you difficulty. Then ask if you can be assessed to see if there’s something going on that you can get help for. Never mention “ADHD” during this conversation.
  • Sometimes your school’s guidance counselor can be helpful as a backup to your request, so try to enlist them.

How can I get assessed for ADHD if I am a minor? Do my parents have to be involved?

  • A lot depends on where you are and how old you are. In the UK, for example, if you are over 16 you can go to the doctor yourself and ask to be assessed.

My IQ test results were uneven. Why is this?

  • One of the things ADHD impacts is processing speed; another is working memory. Both of these areas can impact certain parts of an IQ test. Here is an article about a recent(ish) study about how these things affect IQ test results and what the truth is regarding ADHD and IQ.

What do you think of self-diagnosis?

  • First let’s be clear here: self-diagnosis is not what people are doing when they say “I had an ADHD moment” or “I’m so ADHD sometimes!” Self-diagnosis is what happens when people research ADHD, read up on it in depth, and eventually come to the informed conclusion that they probably have ADHD. If you need help with this process, check out this post.
  • I have no problem with self-diagnosis. I personally prefer it if people who are self-diagnosed use language like “I think I have ADHD” or “I’m pretty sure I have ADHD” but for the purposes of this blog, self-diagnosis is equivalent to formal diagnosis. (In other words, if you ask a question we aren’t going to ask you when you were diagnosed because that is not a thing that matters here.)
  • But why on earth would anyone not get a formal diagnosis?!? I’m glad you asked! Here are a bunch of really valid reasons why people don’t get formally diagnosed. It’s nobody’s business why a person doesn’t have a formal diagnosis; this kind of thing is really personal. So it’s really rude to ask someone (1) if they have a formal diagnosis; or (2) why they don’t have a formal diagnosis. Particularly here at Actually ADHD, we don’t care whether the people writing in have a formal diagnosis. All that matters is that you have a problem that we might be able to help you with.
  • People who are self-diagnosed shouldn’t misrepresent themselves in order to try and get accommodations and the like at work or at school. I don’t like that accommodations aren’t available to everyone who needs them, regardless of whether they’ve been formally diagnosed (I think that accommodations should be needs-based, not diagnosis-based), but that’s the system we have right now and it’s important to be honest about that. Doing otherwise increases stigma. (Asking friends or family to accommodate your difficulties is different, and is something your loved ones should do regardless.)

I do X, Y, and Z. Do you think I have ADHD?

  • I have absolutely no idea whether you have ADHD. Many of the symptoms of ADHD are also common with other disorders, like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder (to name a few). On top of that, physical conditions like sleep deprivation (caused by a sleep disorder, fibromyalgia, and/or lupus, for example) can cause ADHD symptoms!
  • I am not a clinician of any kind, and even if I was I would not legally be able to diagnose you over the internet. A formal diagnosis requires in-person appointments and testing.
  • To learn more about what ADHD is, check out the lists of diagnostic criteria (here and here), the description of executive dysfunction (here), our “what it’s like” tag, our “analogies” tag, and our “personal stories” tag. The more strongly you relate to the information here, the more likely it is that you have ADHD.

Is it possible to have X as well as ADHD?

  • There are lots of disorders that can be comorbid with ADHD (“comorbid” means they occur at the same time as something else). These include:
    Autism Spectrum Disorders;
    Bipolar Disorder;
    Anxiety Disorders;
    Learning Disorders;
    Depression;
    Personality Disorders; and
    Sensory Processing Disorders.
    There are probably others that I haven’t listed here. Having ADHD doesn’t mean you can’t have other disorders.
  • In addition, it is possible to be misdiagnosed with one of these disorders when you actually have ADHD, and it is possible to be misdiagnosed with ADHD when you actually have one of these disorders.

Fidget Toys and Related Information

Where can I get some fidget toys? What are fidget toys?

Is this stimming?

  • Stimming is short for “self-stimulatory behaviours” and is specifically about things we do in order to get particular types of sensory input. It’s usually repetitive in nature, though not always.
  • The term was originally coined by professionals who worked with developmentally disabled people, which is a population that is highly likely to engage in stimming. This population includes autistic people; it also includes people who have Down syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, and – believe it or not – ADHD. So this word is not an exclusive word that only autistic people can use. It is ours, too.
  • Stimming is very similar to fidgeting, and some fidgety behaviour is stimming.
  • Stimming is often used to regulate the body or emotions, and it can also be used to express emotions.

I pick at my skin (dermatillomania)/pull out my hair (trichotillomania). Is this part of ADHD?/How can I stop doing this?

  • Dermatillomania and trichotillomania are not part of ADHD.
  • We recommend you ask a blog devoted to these things in order to get help with them.

Medication

There are two web sites I recommend for you to check out your medication’s side effects: drugs.com and crazymeds. In addition, drugs.com has a drug interaction checker, which will allow you to check whether your medication is known to interact badly with anything else.

I don’t have insurance, how can I afford medication?

  • You have a few options here. First, you can try your drug manufacturer’s web site to see if they have coupons or programs for people who can’t afford medication without assistance. Second, you can try Costco or Wal-Mart since they are typically cheaper (you don’t need a Costco membership to use the pharmacy). Third, you can see if a generic version works for you and is cheaper than the brand name.
  • GoodRX is a good resource if you live in the US. (We will add resources as we learn of them.)

How do you know if your medication is working?

  • Some people can tell that their medication is working, other people can’t. It can be helpful to ask other people if they’ve noticed a difference since you started taking your meds, or to try skipping a day to see if there’s a difference (assuming you’re taking a stimulant; if you’re taking Strattera or Wellbutrin, this is an incredibly bad idea).

Is X a side effect?

  • The best way to know if something is a side effect of your medication is to look it up. The links for that are in the opening paragraph to this section of the FAQ.

Does medication change your personality?

  • Medication should not significantly change your personality or your sense of self. If you feel “flat” or if you find that you are becoming depressed, violent, or excessively irritable in a way you weren’t before you started taking your medication, please talk to your doctor about the possibility of trying something else, because these are all signs that this is the wrong medication for you.

I drank coffee/Coke/an energy drink after I took my stimulant medication and now I am shaking/feeling buzzed/really hyper. Why did this happen? (Alternate: Can I drink caffeinated drinks while taking stimulant medication?)

  • It’s a really bad idea to drink caffeine when your stimulant medication is active in your system. Caffeine is also a stimulant, so you are basically overdoing things. This can cause anxiety, shakiness, hyperactivity, euphoria, and other things that may be fun or may be dangerous. Wait to drink caffeine until the medication has worn off in the evenings.

Does caffeine make anyone else fall asleep?

  • ADHDers often get sleepy after drinking caffeine; however, it’s important to note that everyone is different, and some people react to caffeine by getting more energy while others have no response whatsoever.

Can I drink alcohol when I am taking ADHD medication?

  • It is a bad idea to drink alcohol when you are taking medication. Most medications (regardless of the type) interact poorly with alcohol. If you are taking stimulants, wait until they have worn off at the end of the day before you drink alcohol.

What do you think about the use of marijuana/cannabis/pot to treat ADHD? What will happen if I smoke up while my medication is active in my system?

  • Please see the “marijuana” tag for information on this.