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What is ADHD and How Do I Know If I’m ADHD?

While ADHD can be seen as a strength, for many of us, being ADHD can mean living with a stream of negative thoughts and emotions about oneself. Feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, and feeling like we don’t fit in, can generate stress and anxiety. While each person’s experiences with ADHD vary, difficulties often come from a lifetime of others not understanding us, being told we’re “Too much,” and challenges to focus, regulate our emotions, or maintain positive relationships.

Awareness of ADHD means we can create a more ADHD-friendly world. If we are ADHD ourselves, understanding is also the first step toward acknowledging and addressing it on a personal level.

Defining ADHD.

In the clinical sense, ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition. It is not an “illness” that can be cured or made to go away; rather, a person who has ADHD has a brain that is wired to think and behave differently.

In Aotearoa, ADHD is diagnosed by a specialist psychologist or psychiatrist. The diagnostic classification defines Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as “a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning and development.” A person can be diagnosed with inattentive, hyperactive, or combined-type ADHD.

Recent perspectives are challenging the traditional view of ADHD as a “disorder,” as this viewpoint contributes to discrimination against those who are ADHD. People who are ADHD, whether children or adults are often unfairly judged as “lazy” or “impolite.” In addition, people inaccurately link ADHD with poor intelligence when there are many highly intelligent, successful ADHDers, including the likes of Lilly Allen, Greta Gerwig, and Mark Ruffalo.

ADHD and the Brain

Have you ever thought about how we pay attention, remember things, juggle different thoughts, control our impulses, and keep our emotions in check? These skills are known as executive skills. They help us with everything from organising our day to solving problems and getting along with others. However, like all skills, everyone is slightly different in how strong their executive skills are. People who are ADHD typically struggle with executive functions. It’s not just about being easily distracted; in ADHD, difficulties with executive skills stem from the brain being wired differently to non-ADHD people. There are also links with neurotransmitters, the chemicals in our brain, particularly dopamine and norepinephrine, which are connected to feeling motivated or excited.

Understanding these brain differences can help us grasp why ADHDers experience the world differently.

ADHD Strengths

A 2022 report by Deloitte highlighted that the inclusion of neurodivergent staff can increase a team’s productivity by 30%. There are many misconceptions about ADHD out there: More than half of people who are ADHD in Aotearoa New Zealand say they have experienced some discrimination about ADHD. But in truth, if you’ve got ADHD, you are likely creative, caring, and spontaneous. Experiences vary, but there are common strengths associated with ADHD. You might approach things uniquely, which can result in innovative, “out-of-the-box” solutions. Thinking differently and having the ability to see the larger picture is beneficial, particularly at work. Some people who are ADHD are known to get a huge amount of mahi (work) done, to work well and make brave decisions under pressure, and to be passionate and motivating to others. You bring something unique to the table, making you a great asset to any team. And when it comes to relationships, your spontaneity and empathy can mean that you’re fun or uplifting to be around, or that you make deeper connections with others.

How Do I Know If I’m ADHD?

Being ADHD and living in a world geared towards neurotypical people, may have interfered with your ability to reach your goals, affecting areas like study or work, and causing disruptions in your daily life and relationships. This can diminish your self-esteem and confidence. You may not seem able to stick with your career, close relationships or interests. This can be because of brain differences as well as a lack of awareness or understanding of ADHD.

Addressing ADHD may help you manage symptoms, seek the right support, and maximise your strengths. If you’re wondering whether you might be ADHD, there are a few common signs to look out for:

Inattentiveness and distractibility

Firstly, are you easily distracted, or do you have difficulty focusing on what you’re doing? Perhaps you struggle with organisation or following directions, repeat the same mistakes, or seriously avoid complex or tedious tasks, missing important deadlines. You may also struggle with forgetfulness, which causes you to miss messages and appointments or half-complete activities.

Impulsivity and hyperactivity

For those with a more hyperactive side, constantly fidgeting, always being on the move, talking non-stop, or cutting conversations can be pretty common. Others might perceive you as impolite, abrupt, or impulsive.

Other signs

People who are ADHD can be inattentive type, hyperactive/impulsive type, or combined type. Plus. while they aren’t part of the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, you might have noticed other difficulties such as feeling all your emotions intensely or being overly sensitive to criticism. You may be super sensitive to sounds, tastes, and textures. You may also feel awkward in social situations, have difficulty keeping track of time, or have laser-focus and zone in on things that grab your interest.

These are all pretty standard signs of ADHD. While most of us will have some difficulties with attention and restlessness at times, to meet the criteria for ADHD the difficulties must impact your functioning, e.g., at work, in your day-to-day life. Keep in mind, that these are just general trends. If you think you might be ADHD, you can complete an online screening self-assessment to start with. For a formal diagnostic assessment, visit your GP for a referral or directly approach a specialist, such as MindMatters Clinic.
Whānau (families) with children who might be ADHD are often able to access a funded assessment through the public system. Unfortunately, adults usually have to pay for the assessment themselves.

How Common is ADHD

Although rates vary, studies suggest approximately 8 % of children and adolescents and 3-7% of adults globally. In Aotearoa, New Zealand, it is estimated that 6% of Kiwis are ADHD.

Being ADHD can significantly impact one’s school, home, work, and social life. About one in every classroom is likely ADHD. Tragically, these students often go unnoticed and can subsequently score 8–10% lower in literacy and numeracy and are 2.7 times more likely to leave school early. Many whānau (families) and schools lack the resources to support those who are ADHD effectively. Into adulthood, the struggles can persist. By age 30, adults who are ADHD can face a 10% unemployment rate or earn 33% less when they are employed. This is despite the clear strengths that ADHD employees offer workplaces.

ADHD Appears to Be Everywhere! Why?

These days, it seems that everyone has ADHD. A colleague, a friend, or a family member turns out to be ADHD.

One reason why ADHD appears to be more prevalent is that greater awareness has encouraged people to freely discuss and disclose it with their employers, colleagues, friends, and community or to seek medical assistance and diagnosis. Many people getting diagnosed as ADHD have struggled their whole lives and are only just now understanding why.

Also, the diagnostic criteria changed slightly in 2013 to reduce the number of symptoms required for diagnosis, so a proportion of people who were previously just below the threshold, would now meet the criteria for ADHD.

Another reason may lie in the fact that people who think they are ADHD have been self-diagnosing it a lot more on social media recently. Recent research shows that 33% of people are more interested in diagnosis because of social media, especially TikTok. ADHD content on social media has exploded in the past few years. Some of this is based on trustworthy resources and has helped people realise they are ADHD and access a diagnosis. Still, much information on social media is based on misinformation and exaggerations, so be cautious when self-diagnosing.

Intervention Options

There are various ways to help manage ADHD:


The first line of treatment for ADHD is stimulant medication, like Ritalin. These medications are known to be highly effective and can be life-changing for people. For many people who are ADHD, medication is an integral part of their treatment and helps with focus and impulse control, especially at work.

Psychological Treatment

Then there’s psychological treatment, especially cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), which is an evidence-based treatment also recommended as part of international best practice guidelines for the treatment of ADHD. CBT focuses on learning strategies to manage areas of difficulty. This should only be delivered by qualified clinicians who really “get” ADHD. MindMatters Clinic has recently introduced online individual and group treatment for ADHD.

Lifestyle changes

Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and good sleep can make a difference. Often, establishing a routine is key. It’s all about finding the right mix that works for you and taking care of your mind and body.

Ongoing Support

Support at home, school, and work is crucial, too. For instance, businesses can support employees who are ADHD by having an inclusive approach and providing ongoing education, such as by organising MindMatters Clinic webinars and workshops featuring experts in ADHD and neurodiversity, and offering flexible working conditions.

Download the MindMatters Handout Here


NZ’s leading clinical experts in workplace mental health and wellbeing, contact us today to be connected to the best psychologist to meet your specific needs. MindMatters Clinic provide individual executive coaching and psychological support to businesses, as well as working with organisations to manage mental health and psychosocial risks. We also do speaking events.

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