Just 10 percent of children outgrow ADHD in adulthood

SEATTLE, Wash. — Children with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) will likely deal with some level of the condition even after they reach adulthood, a new study finds. Researchers from the University of Washington School of Medicine say the belief that half of youngsters with ADHD “outgrow” the disorder appears to be incorrect. Their findings reveal that just 10 percent of kids with ADHD completely overcome the condition over time.

Contrary to the findings of previous studies, the team says ADHD continues to manifest itself in adulthood in different ways compared to childhood. Moreover, adult cases of ADHD can somewhat go into remission at times, making it seem like the condition is gone.

“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,” says lead researcher Margaret Sibley, a UW associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, in a university release.

According to the international team contributing to this report, decades of research has pointed to ADHD persisting from childhood to adulthood in about 50 percent of cases. However, the new study suggests that the vast majority of children will keep experiencing symptoms later in life.

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

Spotting the symptoms of ADHD

Doctors typically detect the neurobiological disorder during early childhood. ADHD has two main symptoms, the first being a problem maintaining focus and attention. This can also include disorganization and forgetfulness.

The second basic symptom of ADHD centers around hyperactivity and impulsivity. In children, this can manifest itself by kids being unable to stop running around or climbing on things. In adults, these symptoms morph into more verbal impulsivity and an inability to make decisions. Researchers add that ADHD will also look different depending on what stage of life a person is in.

In fact, ADHD can also lead to certain patients having hyper-focus, such as Olympic champion Michael Phelps. Overall, scientists believe ADHD affects between five and 10 percent of the population.

What makes this study different from previous reports is the fact that researchers continued to check in with patients over a span of 16 years. The team studied a group of 558 children with ADHD from age eight to age 25, reassessing their condition every two years. Researchers also asked each child’s family members and teachers about the symptoms they displayed over time.

Dr. Sibley says the thought that 50 percent of ADHD patients outgrow the condition started in the 1990s. However, those studies only reconnected with patients once during adulthood. It’s likely, the researcher at Seattle Children’s Research Institute adds, that scientists in those studies didn’t see signs of ADHD and believed the condition had passed.

Learning how to manage ADHD

Study authors say it’s still unclear what causes ADHD to develop or flare up during adulthood. Factors like stress, environment, and even lifestyle changes such as sleeping or eating habits may be in play.

Medication and therapy are two of the main treatment methods for ADHD however, some people can learn to certain coping skills as well. Researchers say adults who technically no longer meet the threshold for an ADHD diagnosis can still show some traces from time to time. Despite these flare-ups, there are ways to manage them.

“The key is finding a job or a life passion that ADHD does not interfere with,” Sibley concludes. “You are going to see a lot of creative people have ADHD because they’re able to be successful in their creative endeavors despite having ADHD, whereas 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.”

Researchers add that the time to seek medical help for ADHD is when the condition begins to disrupt your daily life.

The findings appear in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

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