A step-by-step guide for getting assessed for ADHD as an adult in Australia.

ADHD is having a moment in the spotlight right now, especially on social media, but there are also a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings around it. 

It seems one of the main reasons we’re confused is the name itself. 

"The name ADHD poorly represents the condition," says Joanna Bailey, Psychologist and director of Bluebird Psychology and mum of three. Joanna not only works with clients with ADHD, she was also diagnosed with the same in her late 20s. 

Watch: Mia Freedman speak about her ADHD diagnosis on No Filter. 

Joanna, like many others, told Mamamia she prefers identity-first language - ADHDer. But as an ADHDer herself, and an expert on how it affects women, she has an issue with every aspect of the name ADHD. 

"Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder implies that attention is the main difficulty and Deficit implies that there’s only ever a lack of attention," she explains.  

"Hyperactivity implies that everybody is hyperactive and Disorder implies that there’s something wrong with this condition, something broken within us. But it’s the best name we’ve got at the moment." 

Part of the problem was the original research on ADHD was focused on boys. We now know ADHD in women and girls can look quite different. In fact, there are three different types of ADHD.

1. Hyperactive/impulsive type

2. Inattentive type (that’s the one we used to call ADD) 

3. Combined type. 

More women experience the Inattentive type which can be quite hard to pick up and is easily mislabelled as depression, being disorganised, lazy, or a daydreamer.

Another belief many people have is ADHD is a childhood condition and something we outgrow, but Joanna says we’ve been getting that wrong too. It doesn’t disappear. 

"Some of the traits are likely to shift and change as we age," she says. "As we get older the hyperactivity tends to become less over time."

But rather than outgrowing it, Joanna explains, adults often learn to internalise their hyperactivity. "There’s an inner restlessness and an inner chattering that just doesn’t disappear."

Listen to No Filter with Mia Freedman, At 49, Mia Freedman was diagnosed with ADHD. Post continues below.

What to look for.

Joanna was always a creative person and a bit of a daydreamer. She was also smart and worked her way through tertiary education to become a psychologist. But she knew something wasn’t right. 

She’d struggled with depression and anxiety. Then after having children, her energy levels, memory, and attention span became worse. "I was constantly feeling like I was drowning in daily life," she says. 

Her depression had become chronic and despite good treatment, just wasn’t shifting. 

Then one of her children began to display some signs of ADHD and, knowing it has a hereditary component, some of the pieces clicked together in her head about her own experience. 

She started to think: “I don’t think this is depression: what I’ve been living with.”

ADHD is a form of neurodivergence, a different way of operating, and affects several areas including:

  • Attention 
  • Frustration tolerance
  • Impulsivity
  • Organisation 
  • Measuring Time
  • Forgetfulness
  • Initiating action 
  • Completing tasks

Some of these crossover with other conditions, such as bipolar, autism, OCD, anxiety, and depression, so Joanna suggests it’s important to get formally assessed rather than self-diagnose. 

Finding a specialist.

Making sure you see a specialist who is well-trained in adult ADHD is important. 

School teacher Elle Gill was initially misdiagnosed at 18 as having Borderline Personality Disorder by a psychiatrist. 

“I was upset when he said BPD,” she says. “It didn’t feel like me.” 

Over time, she became more uncomfortable with the BPD diagnosis but knew there was still something going on. 

Then at 27, just after her baby was born, her world became unexpectedly chaotic. “I thought it wouldn’t be that hard,” she says. “But it wasn’t even the parenting that was hard, it was the executive function.” The housework and organisation became overwhelming. 

“Even when I was on maternity leave I started to realise, I’ve had weeks and weeks to prepare and I can’t do it. I wanted to but I couldn’t.” 

She was on Tiktok one day and it suggested she had ADHD. It resonated with her, but she was a little hesitant. She’d become hyperfocused on researching ADHD and was concerned she was just making it fit her experience. 

So she booked in with a new psychiatrist and was formally diagnosed with ADHD. 

Looking back at her childhood, it made complete sense. 

“I have always been a bit different… My friends were like, you were the weirdest of our friend group, but we like you!” 

As a theatre and dance kid, no one really questioned her dramatic, loud, hyperactive personality. 

“If I was a boy, I would have been seen as classic ADHD,” says Elle who has ADHD Hyperactive type. “I was shocked as a teacher: How did no one support me? How did no one pick this up?” 

Timing matters.

There are specific times in life when ADHD may become more obvious. Joanna calls these “increased load times.”

Like Elle discovered, having babies is a common one. 

The early years of motherhood are already overwhelming and they place a big demand on our executive functioning. 

“It’s about looking at the extent of the overwhelm,” says Joanna. A specialist in adult ADHD will also take into account your whole life story: The big picture.

Joanna also points out that for women, depression is one of the biggest issues with ADHD. If your depression is resistant to treatment or you feel like you’re drowning, as she did, it may be a sign something more is going on for you. 

Other increased load times are early high school, late high school when you start exams, and starting tertiary education.  

A step-by-step process for being assessed for ADHD as an adult in Australia. 

It can be an expensive, confusing, and long process finding the right specialist and getting an ADHD assessment, but finding the right support can be life-changing. Joanna recommends taking the following steps:  

Step 1: Find a psychologist or mental health professional who specialises in ADHD assessment and schedule an appointment. This could be online or face-to-face. Cost will vary depending on the length of assessment and the sort of assessment tools utilised. Medicare does not currently provide rebates for ADHD assessments; however, you may be eligible to get a Mental Health Care plan and a referral from your GP to entitle you to a rebate for part of the session fee for your ongoing support sessions. 

Step 2: Collect any information that may help the assessor such as any previous assessments, reports or school reports.

Step 3: Attend the assessment session. A good assessment includes: getting to know you a little bit better and finding out about your history, and your strengths and struggles.

Step 4: Attend a follow-up session to discuss the feedback and recommendations. You can have a report written, generally for a fee, to provide to your GP and potentially to a psychiatrist if you are interested in medications. This report may outline your traits of ADHD, whether you meet the criteria for diagnosis and some recommendations

Alternatively, you can see a psychiatrist for your assessment. The benefits to doing this can be that they can move straight on to assessing for medication and you can get some money back from Medicare.

Joanna says not to be afraid of a label of ADHD. A label is just gathering together people with a similar experience, she says. “I often see a sense of relief in women to have a reason, and also a second sense of relief of ‘I’m not alone.’” 

Joanna’s practice, Bluebird Psychology, is a private practice in Castle Hill, Sydney. Their team provides face-to-face and online services for adults and adolescents including assessments, therapy, seminars and support groups. 

Want to read more about adult ADHD? Check out our ADHD Resource Centre here. We're also going to be answering some questions and sharing regular content about ADHD in a free weekly newsletter which you can sign up for here.

Feature Image: Getty

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Top Comments

m.b.20 2 years ago
I got diagnosed this year after tiktok too. Incredible to just know I'm not a bad person and my executive function is a real issue, not just me being lazy.