Do Kids Outgrow ADHD?

ADHD changes over time, but it's rarely outgrown

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It was once thought that children simply outgrow ADHD as they develop, mature, and age. We now know that although ADHD begins in childhood, troubling symptoms can continue into adolescence and beyond—throughout a person's life. While some kids may seem to outgrow the disorder (or no longer have symptoms that result in impairment), in most cases kids with ADHD grow up to be adults with ADHD.

Though ADHD is chronic in nature, symptoms may certainly present in differing ways as a person moves through life stages. These symptoms may even diminish as that person grows older—for example, ​hyperactivity and fidgetiness may decrease with age. Certainly, teens and adults whose ADHD has been addressed over the years will have a range of resources and strategies to turn to when ADHD symptoms become problematic.

ADHD Persists Into Adulthood

Research suggests that while symptoms may change as people grow older, people who have ADHD in childhood are usually still affected by the condition in adulthood. In one study that followed children diagnosed with ADHD into adulthood, researchers found that:

  • 29% of people diagnosed in childhood had ADHD symptoms as adults.
  • 81% of those with adult ADHD also had at least one other psychiatric condition.
  • Common co-occurring disorders that were seen in adulthood included substance use disorders, anxiety, and depression.

Of all the children who took part in the study, only 37.5% were free of symptoms or negative outcomes in adulthood. The results also indicated that the participants also had higher rates of incarceration and suicide as adults.

Diagnosed at a Later Age

Many people with ADHD may not be diagnosed until their teenage or adult years. This is particularly true of those with predominately inattentive symptoms, which are less disruptive and less overt as compared to impulsive/hyperactive symptoms.

Girls and women, in particular, are more likely to experience the inattentive type of ADHD. This often means that they are diagnosed later in life. Research suggests that because these symptoms are less noticeable, girls develop coping strategies to help hide their symptoms. 

Though the person may have successfully managed symptoms in childhood, the teenage and adult years bring on increased demands for sustained attention, planning, organization, and self-management that can make coping with ADHD more and more difficult.

People who are diagnosed as teens or adults may actually find a sense of relief in the diagnosis, which explains a wide range of lifelong challenges. It can be particularly helpful to learn that there are both medical treatments and strategies that can make a positive difference. In addition, having a diagnosis can open the door to helpful conversations with parents, friends, and partners. 

Teens With ADHD

Teens with untreated ADHD have few tools and resources for managing their symptoms. As a result, they are more likely than their typical peers to have difficulty juggling multiple classes and extra-curricular activities.

Like other teens, teens with ADHD are separating from family and becoming more independent—but with fewer internal restraints, teens with ADHD are more likely to get involved in risky behavior. All these challenges can lead to injury and/or lowered self-esteem.

Untreated ADHD teens are more likely to experience a higher incidence of driving accidents, underachievement in school/work, relationship problems, and even substance abuse.

Adults With ADHD

Researchers have also found that structural differences in the brain persist into adulthood, even in cases where people previously diagnosed with ADHD no longer met the diagnostic criteria for the condition. Such findings suggest that while ADHD symptoms may become less apparent as someone grows older, they may still experience a variety of neurological differences that can influence behavior in a variety of ways.

Symptoms in adulthood can be more varied and present in more subtle ways—some examples include:

  • Disorganization
  • Impulsive decision making
  • Internal restlessness
  • Wandering attention
  • Procrastination

Though symptoms may be less visible, they can be just as impairing. For example, adults with ADHD may have difficulty managing tasks at work or may respond impulsively in situations that require self-restraint and tact. This can lead to more frequent job changes or unemployment. They may also have a difficult time maintaining long-term friendships and romantic relationships.

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