If ADHD doesn’t go away in adulthood, it makes sense that hyperactivity doesn’t necessarily disappear either. Despite the “hyperactive little boy” stereotype, there are plenty of hyperactive grown men and women out there too.
One way to think about hyperactivity is that because the ADHD brain is always searching for stimulation, hyperactivity is a physical attempt to provide that stimulation, to wake the brain up. When this sense of being understimulated doesn’t go away as people with ADHD reach adulthood, it makes sense that the associated hyperactivity doesn’t either.
For me, hyperactivity includes generally not being good at sitting still, doing things too fast and becoming impatient, and fidgeting like nobody’s business when I’m thinking. Of course, different people with ADHD have different hyperactive symptoms, and some people talk about their hyperactivity becoming “internalized” as they get older.
Having said that, the research that’s been done on this indicates that adults with ADHD are still an externally hyperactive bunch as well. By “external” hyperactivity, I’m talking about good, old fashioned moving around a lot.
In fact, one study published in 2012 found that one of the best ways of diagnosing ADHD could turn out to be simply measuring how much people move when performing a cognitively demanding task. The study found that physical activity during the cognitively demanding task was an even better predictor of executive functioning impairments and ADHD status than inattention or impulsivity. Interestingly, this was true even for inattentive subtype ADHDers – the ones who aren’t supposed to be hyperactive!
These results led the researchers to conclude that “a deficient ability to sit still remains a defining feature of the disorder in adults when it is measured objectively.” In this case, “objectively measuring” hyperactivity meant that the researchers tracked people’s movements with infrared motion sensors. The important point here is that just asking people if they’re hyperactive doesn’t necessarily do the trick – people with ADHD aren’t always good judges of how hyperactive they are because being hyperactive feels normal to them.
Basically, hyperactivity can continue being an important ADHD symptom into adulthood. This is true even for people who don’t meet the technical definition of hyperactive ADHD – as one study found, many people with ADHD who don’t meet the DSM cutoff of six hyperactive symptoms are still well above average in hyperactive traits. In other words, even if you’re an inattentive subtype ADHDer, looking at whether you have hyperactive symptoms could shed light on how ADHD affects your life.
Image: Flickr/Paolo Dala