I struggled getting an ADHD diagnosis – and I’m a medical professional

November 21, 2022| ADHD News

1-minute summary: We often hear from clinicians about their experience using QbTest to help inform their ADHD diagnostic decisions, in conjunction with other clinical measures such as rating scales and clinical interviews. Less common, but equally important, are the stories from clinicians who take a QbTest to assess their own possible diagnosis.

In this piece, a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner working in a major US metro area shares their history with ADHD, including their path to diagnosis as an adult using QbTest alongside subjective measures. These stories are crucial for demystifying and destigmatizing ADHD.  ADHD is a treatable condition, and we’re grateful to them for their perspective on using QbTest as both an administrator and test taker. If you’d like to support a better path forward for standardized ADHD care, consider signing the ADHD Expert Consortium Consensus Statement as well.

 

It’s estimated that between five and seven percent of U.S. adults have ADHD, but only about 20% of them are ever treated for the condition. In recent months, there has been heightened attention around ADHD, specifically around how it is diagnosed and treated. Yet rates of diagnosis among adults remain low.

This in part is the result of stigma. Although the scientific community has, in recent years, helped break down the falsehoods and barriers surrounding public awareness and education of ADHD, there are still many misconceptions around the disorder.

For some it’s the fear of judgement; for others it’s a misunderstanding of the medications often prescribed to those with ADHD. It’s also a lack of awareness about the condition and its symptoms.

Part of the problem also lies within the healthcare system. Overall, there’s a lack of thorough medical education on the subject. In addition, some practitioners are still relying solely on subjective testing methods, which can be more prone to bias given their reliance on the observations of others.

This is where objective methods, including technology-based testing, can help improve the diagnostic process. Dr. Angie LaRosa, MD, MSCR, explains:

“There are many misconceptions about ADHD. Most people, providers included, focus on the hyperactivity piece, not realizing that each patient, whether an adult or child, displays symptoms differently. Inattentiveness is a key indicator of ADHD, but inattentiveness is often missed in traditional subjective testing assessments. Objective testing checks executive function and working memory, meaning it can bring inattentiveness to light for a patient or parent unsure if their child has ADHD because they don’t have ‘classic’ symptoms.”

As a supplemental tool, objective testing provides me and other practitioners with data regarding a patient’s symptoms and behaviors, allowing us to rule the mental health condition in, or out. For those who do have ADHD, it then serves as a baseline evaluation that we can use for measuring the effectiveness of treatment methods.

ADHD is personal and getting a proper diagnosis is critical

Though I’ve been successful in life, I grew up thinking I was slower and less intelligent than my peers. In actuality, I was living with undiagnosed ADHD.

Though there are many symptoms of ADHD – impulsiveness, hyper-focus, inattentiveness, and disorganization to name a few – that can also be mistaken as symptoms of other mental health disorders like anxiety or depression.

As a child, these symptoms can manifest as struggles academically or socially. My ADHD mostly manifested in the form of hyperfocus. For instance, I would concentrate so much on listening to a conversation with someone that I would miss the actual conversation.

Long-term, adults with undiagnosed ADHD can end up with low self-esteem, have difficulty forming and maintaining relationships, or holding down a job. This doesn’t, however, mean that they’re unsuccessful in life – it just means their success took more work to achieve than the success for those without ADHD.

Unfortunately, due to lack of access to care and the stigma that surrounds ADHD, many continue to go undiagnosed or untreated – like I did well into adulthood.

My Own Path to ADHD Diagnosis

It took me until the age of 42 to finally receive my diagnosis.

As a nursing student, I sought a diagnosis for what I believed to be ADHD. Instead, I was diagnosed as having anxiety. Though I knew this was wrong, it took me another two years to seek a second opinion.

In less than three days of working in my current role as a nurse practitioner with a local mental health and wellness clinic, a colleague recognized my symptoms and suggested I get tested for ADHD. With their encouragement, and the aid of an objective assessment from Qbtech, one of the tools I use in-house to help diagnose my own patients, I finally received the diagnosis I needed all along.

Qbtech, which provides both in-clinic and telehealth subjective testing software, provided me with objective data that was hard to refute. The task-based test monitors for and measures ADHD symptoms in a patient, comparing their final results against those of the same age and gender without ADHD. Using it as a supplemental tool alongside traditional diagnostic methods, my provider was able to rule out anxiety and confirm my ADHD.

Life, Post-Diagnosis

I could tell the difference the first day I started treatment.

My organization and planning abilities improved almost immediately. My “anxiety”, or really my feeling of being overwhelmed by my lack of focus and the resulting consequences, virtually disappeared. My stress and lack of sleep-induced irritability lifted.

Ultimately, I feel and function better – my quality of life has improved significantly.

Unfortunately, I could’ve experienced these benefits of treatment earlier if I’d sought a diagnosis, and a second opinion, sooner. Also, because I’d learned to cope with my symptoms, they became harder to recognize as I got older.

This ADHD Awareness Month and beyond, let my story be another opportunity for us to continue the conversation around ADHD and begin the process of removing the stigma and barriers surrounding it.

At the end of the day, my own experience with ADHD serves as an example of the challenges that many children and adults with undiagnosed ADHD face, and the benefits of finally receiving a proper diagnosis. It also highlights the need for us to all advocate for ourselves more within the healthcare system.

For us practitioners, now is the time to set a new standard of care.

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