Coping With Adult ADD

Think adult ADD doesn’t exist? Think again. J.R. Reed looks at life with the illness and shows that it doesn’t have to control your life.


Let me dispel a myth right off the top; adult ADD is a real thing. I know because I was diagnosed with it in college and at age 46 it still rages on in my brain.

For purposes of this post I’m considering ADD and ADHD to be the same thing. Yes there are differences but there are more similarities between the two than differences.

Some mental health professionals believe that people grow out of the disease around age twenty-five but they’re wrong. My psychiatrist is one of those disbelievers and that means I can’t currently get the medication I’ve taken most of my adult life so I have to find other ways to deal with the problem.

I was ADD as far back as elementary school but in the 70’s and 80’s kids weren’t considered ADD unless they were physically bouncing off the walls. Kids like me were simply labeled “stupid” or “lazy” because little was known about the ADD brain at that time.

I was neither stupid nor lazy. I tried my best but it was never enough. I now know that a lot of the problem was with how I was, or rather wasn’t, learning. When it came to math I usually got the answer right but since I couldn’t show the work in the way the teacher wanted I got D’s.

I was and still am constantly told that I don’t live up to my potential and to this day I despise that word because when you take the spin off the phrase what I’m being told is that I’m a failure. It was in high school that my spiral into low self-esteem began.

Luckily more is now known about ADD and my teenage daughter has the advantage of dealing with her ADD while in middle school and high school.

As adults it manifests itself in the workplace in similar ways. Many ADD adults try to go with the flow and become part of the team but since ADD is a hidden disability and not a physical one it usually goes unnoticed by co-workers, customers and the boss.

I call ADD a disability because it is but it’s a disability that can be treated with medicine and coping mechanisms. It doesn’t have to control your life. It’s not an easy battle at first but like any good habit will soon become second nature.

Over the next few weeks I’ll show how you can overcome the disability and have better relationships at home, work and with friends.

If you’re an adult with ADD you need to know that you’re not alone and that you’re actually in good company. Among the many successful, creative and talented people with ADD are Albert Einstein, General Norman Schwarzkopf, Samuel Clemons/Mark Twain, Alexander Graham Bell, J.K. Rowling, Agatha Christie and Justin Timberlake.

In my case I have a hard time focusing because my brain sees the big picture and wants to fast forward to the end of the project. This is similar to my math problems in school where I was able to get to the answer but didn’t necessarily know the proper steps to get there.

Visual learning is how I figure things out. A book or other written material is good but I also need to get hands on with the project. Earlier this year I built a website for my brother’s business. I had no clue what I was doing and it took me a month full of frustration and swearing but I finished it and it works so I guess it was a success. My point is that if this was for school and it was all book learning I would never have figured it out.

I also have trouble communicating, especially verbally. Things make sense in my brain but the recipient generally either doesn’t understand what I say or the message is misinterpreted. Suffice it so say it makes for a lot of frustration,

What I’ve found is that I do better with written communication. I can write it out and go back to arrange my thoughts in a clear, cohesive manner. If I do have to talk with someone I make sure to have a piece of paper and pen so I can make notes about what the other person says. That allows me to follow the conversation and not get lost. I also use the paper to write down questions or talking points I may need during the conversation.


If you have ADD there are some basic things you can use to get through your day. I’ll go into greater detail in the rest of the series but if you start by writing everything down you should notice that it’s easier to get through your day.

My lifesaver is a six-foot by four-foot whiteboard I made.  I call my beautiful mind board because it reminds me of the character Russell Crowe played in the movie A Beautiful Mind. I use it for work to brainstorm and to write down things I need to do.

Another tool I use on a daily basis is an app called Evernote. I have it on my iPhone and on my Mac. I can make quick notes about things and then go back to it later. It also allows you to “clip” web pages and with the push of one button takes that URL and makes it an entry in the app.

If your phone has an audio recorder on your phone I suggest using it to leave yourself reminders or to record thoughts and ideas that pop into (and quickly back out of) your brain. I use a digital audio recorder from my radio days and it goes wherever I go.

If you think you may have adult ADD don’t be afraid because it’s not as bad as you may think. With proper medication and some coping tools you will see your life improve dramatically.

Find a good psychiatrist and when you call to make an appointment don’t be afraid to ask if the doctor believe that adult ADD exists. If they don’t then move on to another doctor because you will be wasting your time. Keep in mind that just because a doctor believes ion ADD that doesn’t mean that they will diagnose you with it.

Google local ADD support groups so you can get to know others like you and learn from them. Remember that as an adult with ADD you’re in good company and aren’t weird.

Part two in this ADD series is dealing with the family dynamic so be sure to write down a reminder to come back and read it.


Photo of man with sign courtesy of Shutterstock.

About J.R. Reed

J.R is a full-time single dad attempting to raise a 14-year-old daughter without providing too many stories to relay to her future therapist. He is also the creator of the popular blog, Sex and the SIngle Dad. A former radio talk show host and color commentator, he’s also an off-the-hook cook, a bit of an argyle-loving dork and has a word in Urban Dictionary. J.R. has a serious guacamole addiction and a torta dealer named Danny.


  1. I’m 25 now and have been struggling with ADHD for as long as I can remember. I always did very well in school (A’s and B’s) but I wouldn’t sit still and distracted other students. In the second grade I was put on Ritalin, which made me less rowdy, but I also became very depressed, lost a ton of weight because I had zero appetite, and would sleep all day when I got home from school. In middle school I switched schools and my parents took me off the Ritalin to see if I “grew out” of my ADHD. I did, but I attribute it more to increased physical exercise. I was swimming after school for 2 hours every day and I literally didn’t have the extra energy to be rambunctious during school and bother anyone. Luckily, this continued all through middle school, high school, and college.

    My little brother dealt with the same issues when he was about 6. He wouldn’t focus in school, was extremely violent, and could not sit still for more than 30 seconds. My parents and his neurologist put him on Adderall, which did everything it was supposed to… Except that he also lost a ton of weight because he never wanted to eat. He sulked around the house because he was too tired and too depressed to express any interest in anything. When he was about 8 or 9, he told me he wanted to kill himself because he hated what the medication did to him. I’ll repeat that in case you missed it: My 8 year old brother wanted to end his life because of the medications he was taking.

    After I brought this up to my parents, they immediately called his neurologist to discuss a withdrawal plan. Needless to say, he no longer takes Adderall. (He was on Stratera for a while, but it didn’t really do anything.) Within days of ending his regimen, he was back to his old “crazy” self, but it was the one we loved and, more importantly, the one who didn’t want to die… I’m not really sure what point I’m trying to make, but I guess not everyone’s ADD or ADHD is the same. I outgrew mine, but he’s the same after a decade. Whenever I see/hear parents who immediately put their kids on harsh amphetamine medications when they think little Billy has an attention defecit, I shudder when I think of what those did to my littler brother.

  2. I’m so glad I fell across this; I can’t wait to hear what else you have to say on it. I wasn’t ADD as a kid (at least not that I’m aware of), but I think I have a sort of adult-onset ADD that is sometimes very taxing.

    When I got to your recommendation about Evernote I had to laugh because I just hit publish on a post singing its praises about ten minutes ago. HA.

  3. I found out that I have ADD when I got my daughter diagnosed . My daughter is also ADD ODD and Bipolar so it’s a very fun ride!! (NOT) oh and husband is bipolar! She is in the 9th grade and up until last year she was on 504 but the school dropped it because they said she is a normal teenager! sure then why do her grades suck! hell she want even take her shoes to p.e. because she doesn’t want to!

  4. looking forward to this series. my 13 year old daughter was diagnosed with ADD-Inattention last summer, and while I tried my best to TRY and not put on her on medication, it just didn’t work out. she started off with generic conerta, and that worked for awhile, but then she started reverting back to forgetting things, needing things to be explained in a way she could understand and sometimes several times, and she got very emotional. it flip-flopped between major anger and crying. her doctor switched her over to generic adderrall, and it has made a big difference. she still has her mood swings, but she has asked to seek counseling, and so she has an appointment on October 18th. funnily enough, my oldest daughter went through serious depression in 7th grade, she was tested for ADD, but that came back negative. i could never understand why my youngest couldn’t catch on as quickly as her sister, but then i thought, ‘wait a minute…the symptoms of ADD sound a lot like my youngest.’ she had been getting bad grades in 6th grade, plus she had two teachers who like to embarrass or put down the ADD kids (cos there were a handful). and i’m sure you know that if someone with ADD gets embarrassed or made fun of in front of their peers, they do two things (at least w my daughter this happened): 1. shut down 2. won’t attempt to do the work, because they figure if the teacher thinks their stupid, then maybe they are. in a way, this treatment of my daughter brought about her diagnosis, but dang, did i ever have to fight with the school (who usually back up the teachers). i was thinking also that had i not figured it out, how long would she have gone in her life without being diagnosed?

    anyways, i was told that my daughter may be able to come off the meds if she can learn to function without them, but then there’s that possibility she may need them for the rest of her life, all i know is i will do whatever it takes to help her. and yes, sometimes i don’t understand how her mind works and i get frustrated with her emotional rollercoaster.

    • My son was definitively diagnosed in 3rd grade with ADD (inattentive), although in kindergarten and 1st grade his teachers already noticed that it took him a long time to complete a project and that he would look off into space (ie., at the clock, out the window, etc.) instead of focusing on the assignment in front of him….

      He started out on Ritalin then we changed to Strattera for a while but it made his stomach queasy, so we switched back to Metadate CD (long-acting Ritalin) and he has been on the same dose for about 3 years ….When he was on Strattera, he ran out of meds for a while and everyone could see how he couldn’t pay attention or remember stuff…plus his personality was a bit more sullen and withdrawn off it…once he got back onto Metadate CD again, he was like a different kid in class…All the extra tutoring was a waste of time if he wasn’t on the medicine (it was in one ear and out the other!) and he had the most patient and sweetest of all tutors trying to help him….

      • I’ve tried strattera but it has a problem with some people where it increases the size of the prostate and causes painful orgasms, so I threw that out. I am currently on dexamphetamine, the only side effects are increase adrenaline which is normal, and less hunger.

      • my sister-in-law was telling me about a med that isn’t a stimulant. is that strattera? she told me to ask the doctor about it, but i forgot. my nephew, who got encephalitis when he was 5, had damage to 75% of his brain. he was in the hospital for 32 days. he recovered better than most people who went through it, but you can still see some of its effects. one of those effects was ADD, so he was put on meds for that along with other meds for other things. he is now off all his meds, has an iep in place, and my brother and sister-in-law are there to constantly fight to make sure he gets the best education possible(cos let me tell you, the school tried its best against them). this kid is my hero, really. kid got straight A’s on his report card last year, and he does better than his sister in school. the fact that, despite his getting sick, he overcame a lot, got off the meds, and can accomplish strong academics and wrestle on varsity gives me hope that maybe my daughter won’t need the meds so much later. right now, without them, she can’t focus and her sleep pattern gets out-of-whack. she said that she mastered the art of sleeping with one eye open in 6th grade…she was ‘asleep’, but her one eye was open enough to look like she was awake lol btw do you find that certain voices irritate or make an add/adhd child just stop listening? my daughter couldn’t stand her one 6th grade teacher’s voice. she said that it made her so tired. lol

        • Strattera is one, and Wellbutrin has been used off-label for adult ADD, and may be good for kids with ADD. Other SSRIs and NRIs have been successful too, though having had just adderall and having been on adderall and prozac (for depression), I don’t think the SSRI did much for my ADD symptoms. Though everyone’s an individual.

          And I can very much feel your daughter — this has always been a problem for me since starting my meds. You become dependent on it for sleep regulation (like how insomniacs get dependent on sleep aids), and when it’s taken out, you sleep near constantly. I also tend to eat a LOT when I’m off meds, because it removes the dietary regulation effect.

          That’s why it’s important to be consistent in taking them.

  5. I am an adult that has ADD and had ADHD as a child. I got put on the medication at about 10 years of age but no one at school reminded me to take the meds so the meds were stopped. It wasn’t until I was about 25 that I got put back on meds and I can say it was a miracle, I did more work in 1 month than I did in years, I could finally finish projects, focus for more than 10 minutes, my motivation increased. It’s nothing short of amazing the difference.

    Adult ADD is very real and I am so thankful I can get the medication, I would have gotten it earlier but due to the stupid war on drugs we have even in Australia it is hard to get the medication, it took me 7-8 years after highschool to find a psychiatrist that could actually prescribe it as you can’t get it through your GP.

  6. My son has ADD (the inattentive kind) and functions in school so much better while on long-acting Ritalin …I was very skeptical at first, but it was clear to see the benefits to his academic performance and sociability….He also, receives a lot of support from the guidance office and teachers in school for which I am eternally grateful….

    It has made me look at my own paralyzing anxiety and inattentiveness and distractibility (although lesser in degree….coffee helps!)….it takes me forever to read some thick boring textbook, but no time at all when it’s the gossip columns!

    • Thanks for sharing Leia. If there is anything else you would like to see discussed in the series please let me know.

    • leia-you’re lucky your son has the school’s support. do you have an iep in place or a 504? contemplating if i should try for a 504 when she enters high school next year. the school my daughter’s at always backs up the teachers, and i kept having to fight her two sixth grade teachers.

      the time release adderrall has made a big difference academically for my daughter…straight D’s to A’s and B’s last year…just got a progress report and she has A’s and B’s, a C, and one D in p.e. (she has slight problem with eye-hand coordination/dexterity though i’m not sure if it’s ADD related)

      • My son has an IEP…and his teachers tell me he tries so hard and is so sweet! He is in 7th grade now….and the workload has increased but he gets a break from taking on Spanish (English/Language Arts is plenty for him now!)…Last year the school psychologist tested him and his IQ was 124! (Somehow he was able to define socialism and fascism which impressed the doctor; he just can’t spell those words!) ….He also gets Resource Room where he works with a few other boys with a teacher who reviews material with them for quizzes and stuff….At home we go on youtube a lot and watch History Channel documentaries on boring things like the Magna Carta and Mesopotamia to reinforce whatever he learns in school (textbooks can be so dull and laborious!)…

        My son also has sloppy handwriting….he didn’t learn how to walk until he was about 16 months old….so I do think there are some kids with ADD/ADHD who also have hand dexterity/coordination issues….(I told him that Daniel Radcliffe was diagnosed with dysgraphism [or something like that] so that makes him feel less isolated)…

        • i just looked up the dexterity eye/hand coordination thing the other night, and it looks like it can be from ADD. while she doesn’t have all the symptoms, there are definite ones like taking a long time to learn how to tie shoes. she didn’t learn until 3rd grade. a teacher taught her a more basic simple way. her fingers move slower than most, she moves slower than most, too. could be why she takes so dang long to get ready. that and she has to have everything ‘just so’. not surprised your son has a 124 IQ. i find that a lot of ADD/ADHD kids are very smart, but because of their disorder, people take it as a sign of laziness or whatever. i also find that if a kid likes something very specific, they’re good at that…for my daughter it’s art and writing. i’m still just very glad your son has very supportive teachers and school staff. to me, that makes a LOT of difference. most of the teachers here aren’t equipped to deal with ADD/ADHD kids.

  7. I can’t wait to read more, J.R. Don’t know that I need to set a reminder as I’m here on an almost daily basis, but I do for most other things 🙂 Like others who have commented, I’m intrigued about experiences and words of wisdom around relationships. I’ve just come out of my second major relationship and, upon reflection, can see how my ADHD has played into it. It’s one of the few areas in my life in which I succeed (a.k.a: keep up the front until the ‘bad kid syndrome’ kicks in/start establishing boundaries (because I’m terrible about that at the beginning due to ‘bad kid syndrome’).

  8. PS – my partner is also ADD and was diagnosed shortly after me. Both of us being on Ritalin has made a big diffrence to our communication and the relationship

    • G’day Andy. Yeah I know that’s Australian but I don’t know what Kiwis say. I’m glad you and your partner have found something that helps. Many aren’t so lucky.

  9. Hi. Thanks for your very well written article. I was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 40 and the diagnosis made huge sense of my life up to that point. I was very successful in high school where i was in a situation where i had strong boundaries and requirements. Once i left however, i struggled in the real world. I achieved a lot, but was always forgetting things, losing track of my own thoughts, could rarely finish projects unless i was in a supportive and structured environment. Thankfully I was put on Ritalin at the age of 40 and over the years have slowly transformed my life.

    It has taken a while but i now understand what the medication does and doesnt do and what other things i need to do (such as the things mentioned in your article). Whiteboards are a godsend!

    The biggest thing ive found that helps though is regular vigorous exercise! I swim and do weights several times a week and THAT has made the biggest change in my life, mood and health.

    I’m looking forward to reading future articles from you.

    warm regards
    Andy in New Zealand

  10. I am so glad i came across this article! I cant wait to read the series! I am in my early 20s and have suffered from ADD since middle school. I also like the question Pragmatic Mom posed. I would be interested in hearing more on that. I find my ADD often gets in the way in my relationship. I love my significant other and don’t want to lose them due to this condition.

  11. @Pragmatic Mom- there are many support groups out there specifically for spouses and significant others of ADD/ADHD sufferers. There are also many books out there made for those who are living with someone who deals with the diagnosis.
    I am someone who not only has ADD myself, but I am also the significant other… So I see both sides of the coin. I can tell you from my experience that patience is a necessity. It’s also a good idea to learn and try to understand the symptoms your spouse suffers from. Being able to help them with their issues or at least understanding them, will yield off some unnecessary arguments. It can be quite trying at times.

  12. What advice do you have for spouses of ADD or ADHD? Typically there is a very high divorce rate for ADD/ADHD adults but what advice do you have for spouses to hang in there? Thanks!

    • I think the main reason divorce rates are so high is because the spouse doesn’t really understand the ADD/ADHD and the symptoms. There is a great book called You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy? By Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramondo. It explains the disability is laymen’s terms and in fact the two authors both have ADD and share their stories as well as how they cope. The book also has a lot of tips for having a proper family dynamic as well as tips for work and in social situations. It was recommended to me and helped me tremendously. Good luck.


  1. […] comments from last week’s overview of adult ADD were overwhelmingly positive and a number of people asked how to cope with a spouse or significant […]

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