Interview with Dr. Ari Tuckman on Adult ADHD

Learn more about adult ADHD from one of the leading experts in the field.

Posted May 09, 2012

Ari Tuckman, PsyD, MBA is a psychologist in private practice, specializing in diagnosing and treating children, teens, and adults with ADHD, anxiety, and depression. He has appeared on CNN, National Public Radio, and XM Radio and been quoted in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe. In addition to his three books, Dr. Tuckman has written for numerous ADHD-related publications, including ADDitude Magazine, Attention Magazine, enewsletter, and enewsletter. His website is

What or who inspired you to write More Attention, Less Deficit: Success Strategies for Adults with ADHD?

Educating clients about ADHD is such an important part of treatment, especially for the folks who have just been diagnosed. I found myself constantly wanting to tell my clients everything they needed to know about ADHD but didn't have the twelve hours to do it. So More Attention, Less Deficit is all those things that I want clients to know about ADHD.


What are the most common difficulties adults with ADHD face?

Time management and getting things done. We live in a very distracting world, so it can be difficult to know what your top priorities are at any given moment. Of course, then you need to actually follow those priorities and complete the top items on your list, while ignoring the pull of other random activities.


In your book More Attention, Less Deficit, you write that ADHD doesn't go away, but that it "looks" different than childhood ADHD. Could you explain how it is different?

Partly it's that the ADHD itself changes, in that the hyperactivity becomes less obvious--kids may run around too much whereas adults will instead feel restless being cooped up in a long meeting. Of course, people with the inattentive type of ADHD were never hyperactive to begin with. But the other big change is in the person's life. As children, we have parents, teachers, coaches, etc. keeping an eye on things and providing some structure to ensure that we get to bed on time, have all the necessary books and papers with us, and do what we're supposed to do. As adults, we're expected to do all this for ourselves. Unfortunately, it's all of these life management skills that adults with ADHD struggle the most with, even if they're brilliant. On the plus side, we have many more options for work as an adult than we did for school as a kid.

How does an adult with ADHD tell the difference between if their behaviors are just ways to compensate, or if they are showing signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?

Some adults with ADHD can look somewhat obsessive or compulsive about what they do, for example checking to make sure that they actually turned off the stove. The difference between that and true OCD is that OCD makes a person less functional--the person with OCD doesn't check the stove once or twice, they check it ten times. For the person with ADHD, the checking is based on an accurate self-assessment that they might have forgotten to turn off the stove, because their experience has taught them that this is the sort of thing that they sometimes do. In this case, these behaviors are helpful, in contrast to true OCD behaviors that really lock the person down and reduce their ability to cope with the world.

What proportion of ADHD adults realize they have ADHD only after their children have been diagnosed?

This is quite common. I call this the two for one diagnosis. There is a very strong genetic component to ADHD, so it's a good probability that a kid with ADHD has a parent with ADHD, and vice versa. So once you find one person in a family with ADHD, you probably find others.

In your book More Attention, Less Deficit, your chapter on nonmedical treatment includes the phrase "pills don't teach skills". Could you explain what that means?

Medication is often an effective treatment for ADHD, but suddenly being better able to focus your attention doesn't mean that you know how to prioritize your to-do list or organize your desk. The medication can set a good foundation wherein the person can do a better job of learning and applying these good habits. It's similar to how wearing glasses doesn't give you better driving skills, but it does enable you to use those skills more effectively.

You address this in your book - what's your opinion on ADHD being seen as a "gift"?

I believe that people with ADHD have many gifts, but I don't believe that the ADHD itself is the cause of those gifts. A person is more than their ADHD, so if they are creative for example, why does it have to come from their ADHD? I am all in favor of people with ADHD valuing their strengths, especially since ADHD-based struggles can take a toll on self-esteem. So the people who say that ADHD is a gift do so in an effort to help people with ADHD feel better about themselves. My issue with it is that it isn't necessary to call the ADHD a gift in order to feel good about your other good qualities. In addition, there is a danger in calling ADHD a gift because it may undermine the need for accommodations at school and work.

In your book you write that people with ADHD can have more difficulties adjusting to big life changes, such as divorce. What recommendations do you have for an ADHD adult that is going through a divorce, especially when there are children involved?

Keep it friendly and keep it simple! Especially when there are kids involved. Focus on the things that matter most and don't get too hung up on fighting over the little details.

I really liked the title of one of the subsections in Chapter 8: "I'm Only Getting Treatment to Shut You People Up". Could you give some suggestions as to how a family member could address the possibility of ADHD with someone they love?

Speak from the perspective of what you see and how you feel that it is making the person's life harder. Focus on the things that are important to this person (such as, "you lost your brand new cell phone") rather than what is important to you and that you feel should be important to them (such as, getting better grades in college). It may also help to let your actions speak louder than your words, by not covering up for the person's ADHD moments. Let them feel the pain more because that is what will give them the incentive to work on it.

What are three tips that an adult with ADHD could implement today?

1. Get rid of some stuff that you don't need (which is a lot more than we think). The less stuff you have, the easier it is to find what you need when you need it.

2. Start setting alarms to remind you of important times or appointments.

3. Get more sleep. Being tired will only make your ADHD worse.

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