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Diagnosing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults is difficult when diagnosticians cannot establish onset prior to the DSM-IV criterion of age 7 or if the number of symptoms does not achieve the DSM threshold for diagnosis. Previous work has assessed the validity of such diagnoses based on psychiatric co-morbidity, family history and neuropsychological functions but none of these studies have used personality as a validation criterion.
We compared four groups of adults: (1) full ADHD subjects who met all DSM-IV criteria for childhood-onset ADHD; (2) late-onset subjects who met all criteria except the age at onset criterion, (3) subthreshold subjects who did not meet full symptom criteria and (4) non-ADHD subjects who did not meet any of the above criteria. Diagnoses were made by using the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV (SCID) and the Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI) was used to assess personality traits.
We found that full ADHD and late-onset ADHD showed similar personality profiles with significant deviations on all TCI scales except reward dependence and self-transcendence. By contrast, subthreshold cases only showed deviations on novelty seeking and self-directiveness.
These data call into question the stringent age of onset of ADHD symptom criteria for adults when making retrospective diagnoses of ADHD. Subthreshold ADHD seems to be a milder form of the disorder that is consistent with dimensional views of the disorder.
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