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Discovering you have a neurodiverse condition in adulthood

In recent years, understanding and awareness of neurodivergent conditions such as ADHD, Autism, and learning difficulties in adults has increased. With information and resources available to us 24/7, we can now, at a click of a button, research symptoms, experiences, and behaviours that we might ourselves be struggling with. Social media can be helpful in that sense, for raising awareness for such conditions that many people may have missed in childhood.

Discovering you may have a neurodivergent condition such as ADHD, Autism, or dyslexia in adulthood can be both a relief and a worry. On the one hand, you may finally understand why you have struggled all these years with certain tasks, but at the same time may be frightened that you will be treated differently because of this.

Here are some conditions that you may be diagnosed with in adulthood, and the signs to look out for.

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs)

Autism spectrum disorder is an umbrella term that has combined conditions that are on the spectrum—such as Aspergers—into one diagnosis.

ADDitudemag explains that if your child has severe autism, they are most likely going to be diagnosed in early childhood—however, if you have high-functioning autism, it may go misdiagnosed for years. People with autism struggle socially, and with communicating, and you may also experience the following in adulthood either in work or your personal life:

  • You can struggle with what others are thinking or feeling.
  • You can struggle to read social cues, or facial expressions when having conversations.
  • You find it hard to keep your emotions balanced.
  • You struggle to express emotions.
  • You can go off on a tangent during conversations.
  • You speak in monologues.
  • You do repetitive or routine behaviours.
  • Your life is restricted by certain activities; you don’t like to break your routine or try something new.
  • You take things literally, or find certain idioms confusing such as “it’s raining cats and dogs,” “break a leg,” or “you’ve missed the boat.”
  • You like everything to be in its place either at home or at your desk at work.
  • You struggle to maintain eye contact.

If you feel like you might have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and it is influencing your work, reach out to someone in your organization that you trust, such as your manager or human resources department for further guidance.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is characterized as having difficulty with concentration or paying attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behaviour. If you think you have adult ADHD, the chances are you had all the symptoms as a child, but they were either mild or went unnoticed.

In some people, as they reach adulthood their hyperactivity may have lessened but they still can experience all the other symptoms. ADHD can interfere with work, relationships, and home life. You deserve to get help for you ADHD if you suspect you may have it. Contact your health professional today.

Signs and symptoms of ADHD in adulthood:

  • You are impulsive and take risks.
  • You have trouble planning.
  • You are disorganized, even when you try not to be.
  • You procrastinate getting work or tasks done.
  • You struggle to finish tasks once you have started.
  • You find it hard to focus.
  • You are forgetful and are constantly losing things.
  • You are not good at managing time efficiently or effectively.
  • You often feel restless or fidgety.
  • You interrupt people talking and find you talk excessively.
  • You find it hard to manage your emotions.
  • You are frustrated easily and can blow up over small things.

ADHD can be a challenge in the work environment or at a place of education for the above reasons. It is important that you speak to your work or institution about making accommodations or adjustments for you. Depending on what country you live in, and the disability law, you may be entitled to these adjustments. These adjustments can look like this:

  • Having flexible work arrangements so you can take breaks when necessary.
  • Extra time to complete work.
  • A quiet desk space to do your work if you are in an office.
  • Extra time for exams if you are a student.

You do have to have a formal diagnosis for this to be agreed, so it is important to speak to your health professional for more information.

Dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dyspraxia.

Dyslexia. This is a learning difficulty which causes problems with spelling, reading, and writing. Dyslexia can affect you day to day and you may have problems at work or school. Common signs of dyslexia include:

  • Reading and writing very slowly.
  • Mixing words or seeing letters back to front.
  • Have trouble with planning or organization.
  • Find it hard to take in written information or instructions.

This can understandably cause difficulties at work as it may take you longer to process and act on instructions given to you. There is help available, so speak to your manager or Human resources department for more help.

Dyscalculia. You may be experiencing dyscalculia as an adult if you struggle with numbers, including telling the time or calculating change, or you struggle to make and stick to a financial budget each month. As a child, you may have struggled with math, and as an adult didn’t really need to use maths or relied on your computer or calculators for help. You probably took a job that doesn’t deal with numbers or statistics; however, you still may struggle day to day. Here are some common signs:

  • You struggle with daily activities that involve numbers e.g., estimating how long a task will take, budgeting your money, or estimating a distance.
  • You rely on addition and struggle to work out more complex maths e.g., how much 20 percent off would be if shopping.
  • You have a poor sense of numbers and estimation, e.g., when at the grocery store checkout.
  • Basic math “facts” are hard for you to grasp.
  • You have no idea if any of your calculations are right or not.
  • You are slow at calculations.
  • You struggle or cannot do mental arithmetic.
  • You experience high levels of anxiety with numbers.
  • You might not be able to work out a monthly budget or find it hard to balance your expenses.

It is often the case that people who struggle with numbers also have signs of dyslexia too, and vice versa. If you want to find out what resources your work can offer you, speak to your manager or human resources.

Discovering you have autism, ADHD or a learning difficulty in adulthood can be challenging, however, there are positives too. It may be a relief for you to realise why you have been struggling all these years, and now you can take steps to support yourself as an adult, get the help you deserve, that may not have been available or offered to you as a child.