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Reacting to an ADHD Diagnosis

Adjusting to an ADHD diagnosis takes time. If you’ve just received an ADHD diagnosis, you might find that you’re a little overwhelmed and not sure what to do with that information.

This is a pretty normal. The answer is to engage with the diagnosis and work through the different layers of incorporating the diagnosis into your life.

SurprisedThe first layer is the initial emotional reaction. Getting officially diagnosed is a shock (but not necessarily a bad one) to your understanding of who you are and what your life is. It tends to provoke a visceral emotional reaction, whether that’s a sense of revelation, uncertainty or even anger.

Over time, this emotional reaction gives way to more practical considerations. “What does this mean?” becomes “what does this mean in terms of concrete steps I can take to change my life?” The sudden change of the initial diagnosis leads to a series of more incremental changes and decisions: what treatment do I use, what coping strategies do I try, who should I tell about my diagnosis?

In the process of dealing with these questions, you build up your understanding of what ADHD is and what exactly ADHD is for you, in your life. You also develop a sense of agency in regards to your ADHD. ADHD is no longer just a series of frustrating and meaningless things that happen to you. It’s something you can engage with by making changes in your life and being aware of how individual experiences with your symptoms fit into the larger context of ADHD.

And the more you engage with the practical, day-to-day side of managing ADHD, the more you add a philosophical layer to your understanding of ADHD. You start to think through more abstract questions about what ADHD means for you. How has my experience of having ADHD shaped who I am as a person? What does my ADHD diagnosis mean in the overall trajectory of my life? How does having ADHD make me approach the world differently than people who don’t have ADHD – and for that matter, how am I different from other people who do have ADHD?

It’s when you get to this philosophical layer that you start to get closer to a sense of acceptance. Balancing out these different parts of the process – the initial emotional reaction, the practical problem-solving phase, and the more abstract philosophical reflection – isn’t immediate by any means. It doesn’t necessarily happen in a linear way, and it takes work. Work, by the way, that should be done with the support of a mental health professional.

But over time, it leads to new insights into your life and ADHD. All of which is to say, then, that if you’ve just gotten diagnosed and don’t know what to do next, that’s OK. Keep grappling with this whole ADHD thing, give it time, and things will likely start to become clearer.

Image: Flickr/simone

Reacting to an ADHD Diagnosis

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. (2018). Reacting to an ADHD Diagnosis. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 21, 2019, from


Last updated: 19 Apr 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 19 Apr 2018
Published on All rights reserved.