I've Been Told I Suffer from ADHD (That's Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder); It's a Condition Associated with Children, but Nicola, 36, Is One of Many Adults Who Blame It for Their Problems. but Are They Actually Ill?

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LIKE many working mothers, Nicola Hasan is a busy woman. With two daughters at different schools, she also has a demanding job as a senior social worker, and has just finished a course that means she can teach other social workers.

Her spare time is spent mainly with her family, but she also squeezes in voluntary work for ADDISS, the national support group for those with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Nicola started the Greenwich branch last year because her daughter, Lauren, 14, was diagnosed with ADHD ten years ago.

However, it is not Lauren with whom she battles every day, but herself.

'I was never aggressive like some people with ADHD, but I would talk too much, flip from one thing to another and get very easily distracted,' says Nicola, 36, who lives with her family in South-East London.

'I'd go to the kitchen, walk past the washing basket, put the washing on, and see the dishes, but not do them, and forget what I came in to do.' The only way she could cope was by writing a 'to do' list that 'even Superman couldn't have finished'.

This inability to focus meant she didn't take any exams and left school at 15.

'It seems I've had ADHD all my life, but it was only diagnosed last September,' says Nicola. She is now taking Concerta, which contains the stimulant methylphenidate, and says her life 'has improved tenfold'.

ADHD is the name given to a collection of behavioural problems linked to poor attention span. The symptoms include impulsiveness, restlessness and hyperactivity.

Most people associate ADHD with children - as many as one in 30 in Britain has it. It was once thought that they grew out of the condition, but some scientists say ADHD is a genetic disorder which doesn't disappear with adulthood.

One in five children with the more extreme forms of ADHD still has the same problems in adulthood: if these figures are translated into the adult population, this means around 460,000 adults - one in 100 - have ADHD.

ADDISS puts the figure higher. 'I would say ten per cent of the adult population have ADHD but don't have a diagnosis. I think it's one of the biggest public health problems there is,' says Andrea Bilbow, the charity's chairperson.

Some sceptics question the existence of ADHD, as well as the numbers affected. However, adult ADHD has already prompted a number of studies, ranging from its effect on older sufferers (up to 55) to what it is like for sufferers' families and partners.

It was announced recently that the prestigious University of Kentucky is going to study the reaction time and decision-making of drivers with ADHD.

By the time those with ADHD, nicknamed 'adders', have reached adulthood, many will have learned to control their hyperactivity, but may still find it difficult to concentrate, for instance, and will still be impulsive. They can be inattentive, fidgety and restless, and are prone to abuse alcohol and drugs.

'They have very unfocused thoughts that flip from one thing to another,' explains Professor Philip Asherson, professor of molecular psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, and the UK's leading expert on adult ADHD.

He runs one of two adult ADHD clinics in the UK, at the Maudsley Hospital, South London.

'Some people say it's like having a whirlwind in your head, or a fog.

It's a constant distracting mental process. Adders tend to procrastinate, have problems starting things and are easily distracted when eventually they do start,' he says.

'We all put off the boring and mundane things - but for them it's almost like a disability.

'They can play a computer game all day long, but if there is something important they have to do, they just can't do it.' They also tend to be impatient.

In queues, they'll either explode in irritability or just walk out. …