Unofficial ADHD Symptoms

Signs of ADHD: Understanding Beyond the Official Criteria

While the official criteria for ADHD focus on well-known symptoms like inattention, hyperactivity, making careless mistakes and impulsive behaviors, many individuals experience additional signs not listed in the diagnostic manuals. These can include difficulty with emotional regulation, problems with time management, and a sense of underachievement. Recognizing these unofficial signs is crucial for a deeper understanding of ADHD and can lead to more effective management and support strategies for those affected.

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Written by

Tayler Hackett

Mental Health Writer and ADHD Expert
In this Article
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Is It ADHD? The Signs That Didn’t Make the Criteria

Have you ever wondered if there's more to ADHD than the official diagnostic criteria? If you’re diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), you’ll have probably noticed that certain symptoms are missing.  

Today, we'll dive into the subtler ADHD symptoms that often get overlooked and explore some unofficial signs that you may relate to but might not recognize as ADHD.

We’ll cover:

  • The frustration of unrecognized struggles and why it can be a problem.
  • The diversity of ADHD experiences.
  • The DSM-5 and the challenges of adult ADHD diagnosis.
  • The unofficial ADHD traits that many of us experience.

Continue reading as we shed light on the lesser-known, unofficial symptoms that influence our daily activities or, for parents, impact your child's behavior.

The Frustration of Unrecognized Symptoms

Before a diagnosis, every day is filled with frustration. You're faced with numerous challenges and behaviors that seem inexplicable. When you get your diagnosis, you finally understand why you think and act the way you do; why you struggle with certain things more than others.

And then you realize that not everything you experience matches with the diagnosis criteria. 

Although an ADHD diagnosis from a mental health professional can confirm that you are experiencing symptoms associated with ADHD, a diagnosis alone isn’t always enough. You need to act on your curiosity and dive deeper. 

Since I started The Mini ADHD Coach, I’ve had plenty of people tell me they’ve related to the ADHD experiences I’ve been through. Some of those are easily explained by the DSM-5, and some aren’t.

The Diversity of ADHD Experiences

ADHD is more than a checklist. 

That’s why we often include a disclaimer on our Instagram that says ADHD is complex, and the challenges we face differ from one another.

What can be a struggle for me might come easy for someone else. There are no ‘standard’ ADHD symptoms that everyone with this neurodivergent disorder has.

Yes, there are established guidelines for diagnosing Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, but mental health professionals consider individual differences and do not expect you to exhibit every common symptom of ADHD.

You only need five of either hyperactive-impulsive symptoms or inattentive symptoms. And if you have enough from both lists, you’ll be diagnosed with the combined type of ADHD.

Both ADHD in children and adult ADHD symptoms vary from person to person. So the best way to understand Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and your own experiences is to find your people.

To understand more about ADHD, you can:

  • Read blogs and articles 💻
  • Listen to ADHD podcasts 🎙️
  • Follow ADHD content creators 👀
  • Join an ADHD community and support group
  • Read the latest research (we recommend the National Institute of Mental Health or Attention Deficit Disorder Association)
  • Seek professional help 🏥 
  • Speak to family members, as ADHD often runs in the family.

Getting to know more about ADHD from another person's point of view can help you realize that you are not alone in this journey. Shared experiences are key to understanding how you experience ADHD and start to reduce symptoms.

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The DSM-5 of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

As you’ve probably already guessed, the diagnostic criteria for ADHD isn’t perfect. 

There are symptoms someone with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity can experience that aren't on the list in the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5). 

Originally, the DSM didn’t even include hyperactivity. 😬

The American Psychiatric Association created the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual to guide every mental health professional in diagnosing adult ADHD individuals. They have compiled ‘all’ the possible ADHD symptoms that a person with this neurodivergent disorder can have and have categorized them into three types: inattention, hyperactivity-impulsivity, and combined.

The last time they updated the DSM was in 2013. They included certain behaviors and symptoms for almost all neurodivergent conditions, such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Mood Disorder, or Anxiety Disorder. 

Luckily, they finally recognized that it wasn’t just younger children with ADHD and added guidance to diagnose older adults of any age with ADHD. 

However, the 5th edition still mentioned the same ADHD symptoms as the DSM's fourth version made in 1994. They only made a minor change to include the impact of environmental factors that can contribute to the struggles we experience. 

That’s why the criteria requires you to state the existence of these struggles in two or more settings, like the workplace, school, or home. It wasn’t the significant update on the adult ADHD symptoms that we might have hoped for.

The American Psychiatric Association has yet to update the guidelines to include the new, extensive research conducted on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in the last 10 years. There’s currently no definite time frame on when the next version will be released.

However, for the people who experience the struggle of having ADHD and cannot get the diagnosis yet because their symptoms don't fit the current set of criteria, we understand your pain. 

Getting an adult ADHD diagnosis can be difficult, time-consuming, and expensive, but hanging on and seeking help is essential. You’ll get there.

The Unofficial List of ADHD Symptoms

Many individuals with ADHD report experiencing symptoms not listed in the DSM-5, such as

Sleeping Difficulties

Perhaps because of the hyperactivity-impulsivity symptoms or the racing thoughts that never seem to stop, many people with ADHD find it hard to fall asleep. It takes longer for our brains to shut off and relax because of the hyperactive brain that an ADHD person may have.

Many adults have difficulty sustaining attention because of sleep deprivation which can lead to a decrease in productivity at work or school. Lack of sleep can also worsen the symptoms that we experience. Plus, sleep disorders can complicate things further and significantly affect a person's mental health.

Time Blindness

Time management can sometimes be a challenge for many people with ADHD. We already have difficulty organizing tasks, especially ones that require sustained mental effort because we’re easily distracted. 

It can be a struggle to pay bills on time, estimate the travel time from one place to the next, finish schoolwork, and be punctual

Remembering important occasions, like birthdays and anniversaries, can be quite hard for us. 📅 We might quickly forget conversations and events from the last few days, and may struggle to remember a sequence of events.

Hyperfocus and Hyperfixation

Are you familiar with the ADHD bubble? It’s the ability to laser-focus on things when we’re interested, even though we’re typically easily distracted with a short attention span. 

It can lead to better productivity and study skills, but it can also make us forget to eat (which stimulant medications can add to) or miss appointments.

Hyperfocus truly is a double-edged sword that can make us feel good about ourselves, but can also make us lose track of time.

Sensory Sensitivity

The list of the official symptoms of ADHD doesn't include being sensitive to external stimuli because it can coincide with other conditions, like anxiety and autism. But as people with ADHD, we can be sensitive to light, sound, smell, taste, and touch. And because of that, we can be easily overwhelmed by our surroundings. 😫

The central nervous system of a person with ADHD can constantly be on high alert, which can lead to a heightened sense of awareness. We can also be easily startled and have a hard time filtering out everything that goes around in our environment which can lead to a possible meltdown.

Social Awkwardness

Being socially awkward can be the reality with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) because its symptoms can force you to act and react in a way that can be considered unnatural in a social environment. 

The difficulty in organizing tasks and thoughts may make us say and do things others see as out of the norm. We can impulsively blurt out things we’d rather we didn’t, or constantly interrupt others. All of this can cause a lot of embarrassment and shame. 

Someone with ADHD can also struggle with learning disabilities, depression, anxiety, or, specifically, social anxiety which can make them feel socially awkward and avoid interaction with others altogether. 

It can also lead to increased risk of substance abuse and ‘liquid courage’ as people use it as a coping mechanism for social situations. 

Emotional Dysregulation

Being unable to control our emotions has a significant impact on our lives and mental health. 

We can easily feel excited and ecstatic about simple things, quickly disappointed when we feel the slightest hint of rejection, or feel angry over the most minor inconvenience like waiting in line while grocery shopping. 

Mood swings are also common because of our emotional dysregulation.

Combine that with puberty in ADHD teenagers or PMS symptoms in those who menstruate and you likely have difficulty with self-control.

When we feel everything so intensely, it can be hard to cope with the regular day-to-day activities. We may have outbursts and make impulsive decisions. 

That’s why we need to find ways to deal with our feelings healthily to be able to prevent any further complications. Again, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help here.

Key Takeaways

  • There are several unrecognized symptoms of ADHD, which means your diagnosis may not fully make sense, leading to frustration and confusion.

  • ADHD manifests uniquely in each individual, so you should find ways to connect with others and learn from their experiences.

  • The DSM-5 criteria has limitations, and obtaining a diagnosis may be challenging if you experience these unofficial symptoms.

  • Common unofficial ADHD symptoms include sleep difficulties, time blindness, hyperfocus, sensory sensitivity, social awkwardness, and emotional dysregulation.

Remember that your struggles are real and valid, regardless of whether an outdated criteria says so. Our advice is to learn everything you can about your situation so you can advocate for yourself until you get the treatment you need.

And most importantly, keep going! 💪

What’s Next?

If you’d like to read more about these unofficial symptoms, here are a few articles you might like:

Exploring the Connection Between ADHD and Headaches

The Link Between ADHD and Sleep Apnea

Harnessing the Power of ADHD Hyperfocus

Overcoming Indecisiveness in ADHD Adults

Unofficial ADHD Symptoms FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Why are these ADHD symptoms unofficial?

The unofficial symptoms are NOT ❌ part of the diagnostic criteria for ADHD but many people with this neurodivergent condition can experience and relate to them.

What are the examples of unofficial ADHD symptoms?

Two of the possible unofficial symptoms are sleep troubles and hyperfocus. People with ADHD may be more prone to suffer from insomnia or other sleep disorders. 

Hyperfocus refers to an intense focus that someone with ADHD can exhibit when doing something they find interesting or engaging.

What should you do if you suspect ADHD?

If you suspect that you or a loved one may be experiencing symptoms of ADHD, it's best to get your ADHD diagnosed and begin to treat ADHD as soon as possible. 

There are plenty of resources available to help guide you through this process and answer any questions that arise along the way.

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