Dealing with ADHD, separation anxiety

Q. My son was diagnosed with ADHD last year. I also have trouble focusing and completing tasks at work, and it has kept me from being promoted. Is it possible I have adult ADHD?

A. Certainly difficulty focusing is one aspect of Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Other symptoms may include: restlessness, impulsivity, low frustration tolerance, mood swings, and trouble coping with stress.

Before you diagnose yourself with ADHD, know that virtually everyone has some symptoms of the disorder. Although the prevalence of ADHD has a genetic component, do not assume that you have it without a proper evaluation from a mental health professional. It’s possible that you just do not like your job. If that is true, finding a new job or career may cure you of your inability to focus and complete tasks.

If you decide to be evaluated for ADHD, it is important to examine your early school years. It is helpful to have old report cards with notes from teachers. Did you have problems paying attention? Did you often forget your assignments? Did you have difficulty following instructions? Were your grades often lower than your ability? If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then you probably have some level of ADHD. Although some people outgrow the condition, approximately 60 percent of those diagnosed as children continue to display symptoms in adulthood. That 60 percent is about 4 percent of the population or 8 million adults.

If you are diagnosed with ADHD, you may need medication or you simply may need to improve your organizational and coping behaviors. Following are some helpful suggestions:

• Have a place for important items at home and at the office. This includes your keys, glasses, wallet, phone, bills.

• Keep important information visible. If you cover it, you will forget it.

• Color code folders and use different color highlighters for meetings, projects, and deadlines.

• Use a large wall calendar or white board at work. The easier it is to see information, the more likely you will be to remember it.

• If you become frustrated and overwhelmed easily, take a short break before returning to your task.

There are many excellent sources of information on adult ADHD. You can begin with the websites for the Mayo Clinic and WebMD.

Q. My 9 -year-old granddaughter who has lived with me for 2 years doesn’t want to go to school. She cries, says she’s sick, and begs to stay home. Since I’m retired, last year I just let her stay home lots, but she got behind in her work. School is starting, and I need help.

A. Contact her school’s psychologist immediately. It is important for your granddaughter’s education and self-esteem that she attends school regularly.

Although I cannot diagnose your granddaughter without an evaluation, she may be experiencing separation anxiety. Regardless of the reason that you have become your granddaughter’s primary caregiver, she is likely to feel that she has been abandoned by her mother. Subsequently, she may believe that everyone will leave her, and she is fearful that something will happen to you if she is away from home. She may also fear being lost, hesitate to spend the night away from you, experience recurrent nightmares about separation, and report stomach problems and headaches.

The school psychologist can make suggestions for a mental health professional who specializes in children’s issues. Goals for treatment include reducing your granddaughter’s anxiety level, developing her sense of security and educating both of you on the most effective methods of managing her situation.

When treatment is started early, children usually outgrow separation anxiety. As they gain more independence, they begin to perform better in school and have fewer fears. If you do the work now, both of you will likely have a much brighter future.

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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City where she maintained a private practice. She now teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. E-mail your questions to The questions could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential.