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Why Is ADHD So Often Diagnosed Late?

One of the complicated things about ADHD is that it’s common for people with the condition to go years without being diagnosed.

Missed TrainAs far as late diagnoses go, mine was early – I was diagnosed at 20. But it’s not unheard of (in fact, it’s kind of routine) for people to be diagnosed at 40 or 60.

Being diagnosed as an adult is tricky because it can shake the narrative you’ve built up around who you are and how your life works. I’m going to talk some more about the effects of being diagnosed as an adult in my next post, but for now I want to focus on a more basic question: why is it so common for people with ADHD not to get diagnosed in childhood?

Here are a few reasons people with ADHD might not get diagnosed as children:

  • If they don’t have obvious hyperactive symptoms, their behavior is less likely to be recognized as ADHD-related.
  • When children with ADHD perform passably in school because of above-average intelligence, a strong support system, etc., it can be harder to see how serious the short-term and long-term consequences of their symptoms are.
  • Children aren’t going to self-refer for ADHD, so in general, they’re not going to be evaluated for ADHD unless their symptoms cause problems for other people.
  • Teachers and parents often simply don’t know what the symptoms of ADHD are. Of course, this is especially true for people who grew up when ADHD wasn’t “a thing.”
  • There’s stigma around being diagnosed with ADHD, so parents might avoid having their children evaluated for ADHD as long as possible.
  • Parents who have made an a priori decision not to put their children on meds might not realize that there are other reasons to seek out an ADHD diagnosis.
  • ADHD is stereotypically a “hyperactive boys’ disorder,” so symptoms in girls may go unrecognized.

In many cases, children don’t get diagnosed with ADHD because their symptoms simply aren’t noticeable enough that anyone in their lives ever says “hey, we should do something about this.”

But just because symptoms aren’t immediately obvious from the outside doesn’t mean they won’t have real, lifelong consequences. Even when children with ADHD aren’t flunking out of school or driving their teachers up the wall, they still underachieve, have social problems, develop self-esteem issues, and experience many other negative repercussions from the disorder.

In my next post, I’m going to talk about some of the consequences of being diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. In the meantime, please share any missed diagnosis/late diagnosis stories you have in the comments!

Image: Flickr/Victoria Pickering

Why Is ADHD So Often Diagnosed Late?

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.


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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2016). Why Is ADHD So Often Diagnosed Late?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 23, 2019, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/adhd-millennial/2016/11/why-is-adhd-so-often-diagnosed-late/

 

Last updated: 11 Nov 2016
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