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ADHD and the Transition to Adulthood (Part 1)

Let me start off with a little self-congratulation. There are some days where I stop and think to myself “hey, I’m getting pretty good at this whole adulting thing.”

Still, there’s a reason I called this blog ADHD Millennial and not ADHD Adult.

If I had to come up with a list of words that described transitioning to adulthood with ADHD, “smooth” and “seamless” probably wouldn’t make the cut. “Perilous” and “unpredictable,” however, would be top contenders.

Of course, the process of becoming a Real Adult is often about learning things the hard way for everyone – attention deficit or not. The difference has to do with the specific “things” you have to learn.

ADHD and the Transition to AdulthoodIn general, becoming a bona-fide, independent adult requires learning certain skills, which can involve a little trial and error. These skills range from how to fill out Form 1040 to how to avoid regularly eating corn flakes for dinner.

The part where ADHD comes in is that on top of learning these normal skills, you also have to learn an entire new set of ADHD coping skills.

Some of these adult ADHD coping skills are extensions of the normal skills everyone has to learn. For example: how to fill out Form 1040 when your brain basically becomes a machine for making careless mistakes any time it’s confronted with an unstimulating task.

Other adult ADHD coping skills are things most people don’t even have to think about. For example: how, if you move to a new city, to make sure you keep receiving ADHD treatment despite the fact that different health professionals can have very different approaches to diagnosis, and how to actually remember to take your meds every day if you do receive treatment.

Now, I haven’t even gotten to work and school yet. Finding work or, if you’re pursuing higher education, not screwing up your studies too bad, are both essential parts of the transition to ADHD adulthood. And you probably don’t need me to tell you that ADHD can wreak all sorts of unpleasantness in the workplace and the classroom.

Going off on a short tangent (hey, I have ADHD, I’m allowed at least one tangent per blog post), it’s worth pointing out that as an “ADHD millennial,” I’m in the privileged position of belonging to not one but two groups that stereotypically have a problem with the transition to adulthood.

My take, though, is that ADHDers and millennials have a hard time coming to terms with adulting for slightly different reasons. In the case of millennials, it’s partly a matter of values and attitude to life: millennials seem to want different things from adulthood than previous generations, or so I’m told. For people with ADHD, it’s a matter of ability: the transition is more complex because there are more skills to develop (the normal adulting skills + the adult ADHD coping skills).

The result is that for people with ADHD, the transition to adulthood can be a little precarious. Adulthood brings more responsibilities and therefore more ways your symptoms can screw you over. You might not be surprised, then, to hear that according to one study, people with ADHD tend to become more impaired by their symptoms in adulthood.

So where does all that leave those of us with ADHD? Feeling sorry for ourselves?

I think there are two big takeaways here. One is that while everyone goes through some process of “maturing” and “growing up,” that process can be more protracted for ADHDers because it involves developing a new set of ADHD coping skills necessary for the demands of adulthood.

The other point I see is that if you have ADHD, you can do yourself a solid by recognizing the fact that developing certain ADHD coping skills is part of the transition to adulthood. By focusing on those skills and confronting your ADHD specifically, you might even be able to accelerate some of the less enjoyable parts of the ADHD “maturing” process.

This is definitely a two-post issue for me: after all, I’m “ADHD Millennial,” so you know I’m going to have a lot of thoughts about this!

In my next post, I’m going to delve into some research that’s been done on what aspects of the transition to adulthood people with ADHD are most likely to struggle with. Then I’ll use that research to highlight some tips that can make the whole being an adult and having ADHD thing easier. See you then!

Image: Flickr/CollegeDegrees360 under CC BY-SA 2.0

ADHD and the Transition to Adulthood (Part 1)



APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2017). ADHD and the Transition to Adulthood (Part 1). Psych Central. Retrieved on January 16, 2019, from


Last updated: 8 Feb 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 8 Feb 2017
Published on All rights reserved.