Most ADHD kids grow up to be ADHD adults, researchers have found.  But it manifests itself in adulthood in different ways, and waxes and wanes over one’s lifetime.

Children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) usually don’t outgrow the disorder as previously thought, according to an August 13, 2021 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

“It’s important for people diagnosed with ADHD to understand that it’s normal to have times in your life where things maybe more unmanageable and other times when things feel more under control,” said lead researcher Margaret Sibley, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine and a researcher at Seattle Children’s Research Institute.

Most ADHD kids become ADHD adults

Study authors from 16 institutions in the United States, Canada, and Brazil quoted decades of research said ADHD is a neurobiological disorder typically first detected in childhood that persists into adulthood in approximately 50 percent of cases.

But this study found just 10 percent of ADHD kids completely outgrow it.

“Although intermittent periods of remission can be expected in most cases, 90 percent of children with ADHD in the Multimodal Treatment Study of ADHD continued to experience residual symptoms into young adulthood,” they wrote.

What ADHD looks like

ADHD is characterized by two main cluster of symptoms — inattentive/passive and hyperactive/impulsive.

Inattentive/passive symptoms look like disorganization, forgetfulness, and having trouble staying on task. Hyperactive, impulsive symptoms in children look like having a lot of energy, such as running around and climbing on things.

In adults, hyperactive/impulsive symptoms manifest more as verbal impulsivity, difficulty with decision-making, and not thinking before acting.

ADHD affects people differently and looks different depending on the phase of life someone’s in.

Sometimes it’s useful!

Some people with ADHD report a unique ability to hyper-focus.

Olympic athletes Michael Phelps and Simone Biles have been open about their ADHD diagnosis.

While many people may experience symptoms similar to ADHD, it is estimated the disorder roughly affects 5 percent to 10 percent of the population, Sibley said.

16 years of research

This study followed a group of 558 children with ADHD for 16 years, from age 8 to 25 years old. The cohort had eight assessments, every two years, to determine whether they had symptoms of ADHD.

The researchers also asked their family members and teachers about their symptoms.

Sibley said the belief that 50 percent of ADHD kids outgrow the disorder was first discussed in the mid-1990s, but most studies only re-connected with the kids one time in adulthood. Because of that, researchers didn’t get to see that the ADHD they thought had gone away actually does come back.

Coping with ADHD

Reseachers have yet to discover what causes ADHD to flare.

Sibley said it could be stress, the wrong environment, and not having a healthy lifestyle of proper sleep, healthy eating, and regular exercise.

If a person is not taking the time to manage symptoms and really understand what works best for them, then the symptoms are probably going to get more out of control, she said.

Treatment – ‘plus’

Medication and therapy are the two main treatments for ADHD, but Sibley said people can – and do – pursue their own healthy coping skills as well.

Researchers found that most people who technically no longer met criteria for ADHD in adulthood still had some traces of it, but were managing well on their own.

“The key is finding a job or a life passion that ADHD does not interfere with,” Sibley said.

“You are going to see that a lot of creative people have ADHD because they’re able to be successful in their creative endeavors despite having it.

“People who might be required to do very detail-oriented work at a computer all day — that could be a really hard combination for a person with ADHD.”

When to ask for help

Sibley said the time to seek professional help is when the symptoms are causing a problem in your life.

This includes:
* not performing your best,
* having problems with other people,
* having a hard time getting along,
* difficulty maintaining healthy, long-term relationships with loved ones and friends, and
* inability to complete basic daily tasks — whether that’s parenting, staying on top of your finances, or just keeping an organized household.

Seeking professional help could include making an appointment with a life coach, a therapist experienced in ADHD and/or exploring the option of medication with a psychopharmacologist – a psychiatrist with expertise in medications.

Source: University of Washington School of Medicine / UW Medicine

Margaret H. Sibley, L. Eugene Arnold, James M. Swanson, Lily T. Hechtman, Traci M. Kennedy, Elizabeth Owens, Brooke S.G. Molina, Peter S. Jensen, Stephen P. Hinshaw, Arunima Roy, Andrea Chronis-Tuscano, Jeffrey H. Newcorn, Luis A. Rohde. Variable Patterns of Remission From ADHD in the Multimodal Treatment Study of ADHDAmerican Journal of Psychiatry, 2021; appi.ajp.2021.2 DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2021.21010032

Hana Julian is a licensed clinical psychotherapist specializing in ADHD across the life span, offering teletherapy sessions. Email or send a WhatsApp text to +972-54-310-1933 for a free consultation.