At some point in your ADHD journey, you’ll need to consider the subject of this post. It’s an important topic, and one your doctor or psychiatrist will likely ask you about if you’re seeking an ADHD diagnosis as an adult.
Why is this so?
ADHD doesn’t come out of nowhere. Yes, the symptoms can be masked and/or may not have a significant impact early in life. Especially those ADHDers with the inattentive sub-type like me can often go undiagnosed until we hit “the wall.” This could happen in middle or high school, college, or that first high-expectations job. But that wall will eventually present itself and you’ll realize something is wrong.
For me the wall came in college, when I nearly flunked out my first semester. That’s an easy enough thing to point to and looking back, the struggles I had were clearly due to undiagnosed ADHD. But as I mentioned, ADHD doesn’t just suddenly appear late in life. So as you examine your life before age 12, you should be able to identify symptoms of ADHD, even if they didn’t necessarily impede you from obtaining early success in school.
Possible indicators of ADHD from before I was 12
- I was terrible at keeping up with homework
- I was a heavy procrastinator
- I would struggle with large projects, being indecisive about how exactly I wanted them to be done; initially wanting perfection, but often settling for whatever I half-assed at the last minute
- I was drawn to screens. Typically video games or cartoons. Saturday mornings I would get up by myself (even though I had three siblings) and I would watch cartoons starting at 6:30am until about 11am (when programming switched to daytime TV). When I realized there was a cartoon at 6, I got up earlier. And then 5:30am. I had to get as much as I could.
- I was prone to addictive behaviors with my fixations, which at various ages included Dinosaurs (ages 3-5), school, reading, video games (original Nintendo!), Cub Scouts, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Cartoons, Legos, baseball – both playing and collecting cards, and food – especially sweets.
- Low impulse control overcame personal values. I would often lie in order to cover up school problems and I frequently stole items related to my fixations.
- My room was typically a messy disaster
- I struggled regulating emotions, and when I got angry I would slam my bedroom door and throw my belongings around my room
- I was asked by peers about my showering habits (in 3rd and even 7th grade)
- I had private violin lessons for years but only practiced independently a handful of times
- I had very few friends
- When given the opportunity I would play video games for hours. One day in the summer I played the original Legend of Zelda from breakfast until dinner, not realizing that I’d developed a painful blister on my thumb from doing it.
- I was very sensitive to social rejection and would often cry because of it
- I preferred my fixations to my peers, at times even reading on the playground rather than engaging with others
When you look at that list it can seem like a lot of negative. There were a lot of great things about my childhood – they’re just not the focus of this post. When I went looking for ADHD in my early life, that’s what I found. In an earlier post, I discussed why I didn’t get diagnosed when I was younger. That one covers the other side of things – the behaviors that helped cover up these symptoms.
In fact, when I first shared my ADHD with my dad and a couple of my siblings they were surprised to hear about it. Because as extensive as this list seems, and as much impact as ADHD actually had on me, it was covered up by early success in school and a lot of little lies at home.
So is everything on that list exclusive to ADHD? No. You can lie, steal, throw tantrums and love cartoons and video games and not have ADHD. But when all of this evidence is taken in the context of my life since then, as well as the continued struggles that emerged from these early indicators, it’s clear that they fit the pattern of ADHD and help to complete the puzzle that is my life.
Examining your childhood for ADHD
As you consider your life before you were 12 looking for signs of ADHD, some helpful questions might be these:
- Did you have any fixations that lasted for months or years, where that was all you wanted to do or learn about or talk about?
- Did you struggle with organization and planning at home and/or school?
- Did you have low impulse control, possibly giving in to lying or sneaking and stealing to get what you wanted right away?
- Did your bedroom look like a tornado went through it, even if you cleaned it earlier in the day?
- Did you struggle with regulating emotions – where you were often overcome by anger, sadness, or even happiness to where you weren’t in control?
- Did you have trouble keeping up with mundane tasks like homework, chores, and self-care?
- Did you feel socially isolated?
Though this list is neither diagnostic nor exhaustive, I found some of these questions helpful in guiding me through the process. I hope they will also help you as you work to connect the dots between being an adult with ADHD and discovering the child you were with ADHD.
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