Child Development

Can a Child Outgrow ADHD?

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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common condition that occurs in both adults and children.

ADHD is not a condition most individuals “grow out of”.

In this article, I’ll explain if a child can outgrow ADHD and if the condition “peaks”. I’ll also walk through diagnosis, treatment, and how to manage ADHD.

So Can a Child Really Outgrow ADHD?

It was once thought that children could grow out of ADHD. What we now know is that this appears to be relatively uncommon. Instead, what most likely goes on is that symptoms shift and change as individuals with ADHD move up in age.

One study that followed 558 children with ADHD from the age of 8 to 25 years old found that only 10% of children grow out of ADHD. For the other 90% of individuals, symptoms persist.

So, when it comes to the question "can a child grow out of ADHD?" the answer is that it is possible in some cases for symptoms to dissipate to the extent that they're no longer clinically significant. However, it is far more probable that a person will continue to meet criteria for ADHD as an adult.

With that said, here's what ADHD can look like in adulthood - and how to manage it.

ADHD and Adulthood

In the context of adult ADHD, symptoms of ADHD can look very different. While brain development is certainly a relevant component, it is also very true that young adults lead different lives than children do. ADHD symptoms in an adult will impact their adult daily life, including impairments with relationships and work. Knowledge of social norms can also be part of why an adult's symptoms might shift.

How symptoms change

Here are a couple of examples of how ADHD changes with age:

  • Young kids with ADHD may run about or climb when they're supposed to remain seated. In adolescents or adults, however, this may be limited to feeling restless and fidgeting.
  • Other hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms might change. For example, impulsive actions that a teen or adult makes (e.g., substance use) could be very different from what impulsivity looks like in a child.
  • Misplacing items frequently and to the point that it negatively impacts a person's life is a common symptom of inattention and forgetfulness. In an adult, this can refer to items that are crucial for adult life. For example, diapers for your child or your car keys.
  • Executive dysfunction can have increasingly negative consequences for adults. After all, adult responsibilities are often greater than the responsibilities we have as a child. For example, it may result in a messy home, finishing work late, or challenges with distractibility and self-care.

Does ADHD "Peak"?

Some people find that ADHD symptoms peak at a certain age. More specifically, hyperactivity may peak in elementary school years for some but could start to either alleviate or shift in the way it presents during puberty.

This is likely due to an increase in awareness of social norms, finding ways to manage symptoms, other changes that come in or close to puberty (both internal and external), and so on. It is also worthwhile to note that specific regions of the brain of a person with ADHD may mature later and that this is most apparent in the part of the brain that controls attention and action.

One of the reasons why ADHD is sometimes overlooked is that symptoms of inattention may not be viewed as "disruptive behaviors" the way that hyperactivity or impulsivity symptoms are at times. For some, this can explain late diagnosis or detection.

Adult Diagnosis

We talked about a study where individuals with ADHD were followed from childhood through adulthood, but what about those who realize that they have ADHD later in life? Getting a diagnosis of ADHD as an adult is possible, and it has become more and more common as we continue to research and better understand ADHD.

A diagnosis can open the door for an individual to get the help they need. A number of different medical professionals can diagnose ADHD. If you are an adult who believes that you may meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, you may look for an ADHD center or psychiatry clinic in your area that offers assessments, talk with your health care provider and ask for a referral to someone who can test you, or work with a professional who can diagnose ADHD in a private practice setting, such as a psychiatrist who specializes in ADHD.

There are clinics and ADHD specialists who work with adults. It may be more advantageous and comfortable for adults to seek care from those who not only specialize in ADHD but also work with the adult population. This is a question you can ask when you first contact a provider. If you want to use your health insurance to pay for the cost of your assessment or treatment, you may contact your insurance company directly to see what they cover.

Sometimes, ADHD is misdiagnosed at first. Depression, autism spectrum disorder, substance use disorders, and anxiety disorders are all also more likely to co-occur in individuals who live with ADHD. Proper treatment can help both children and adults with their health condition.

ADHD Treatment

A treatment plan for someone who lives with ADHD may include a collection of different components. This is to make sure that treatment is cohesive and as beneficial as possible. The two most common treatments for those who live with ADHD are medication and therapy, which may be used together. In fact, it is recommended that those aged 6+ who have ADHD use a combination of medication and therapy.

Medication

Central nervous system (CNS) stimulants are the first-recommended prescription treatment for ADHD. CNS stimulants are effective in helping 70-80% of people with ADHD reduce their symptoms, and some are approved for children as young as three years of age. There are also non-stimulant medication options that can help treat ADHD, such as Strattera. Talk with your or your child's doctor to explore ADHD medication options and find the right fit.

Therapy

Types of talk therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (also called CBT) are backed by research and proven beneficial for those who live with ADHD. CBT largely focuses on changing thought patterns, and it's a non-invasive treatment that can help people address a wide range of concerns.

This is just one modality that can be used, however. Therapy can help individuals with ADHD navigate issues with emotional dysregulation, procrastination or time management, self-esteem, and more. Mental health professionals who offer talk therapy may specialize in working with specific conditions, age groups, and so on. The therapeutic process will be adjusted to fit a person's unique needs and age. Children with ADHD may benefit from play therapy, for example.

Alongside medication and therapy, self-help techniques, accommodations, and other tools can help a person manage ADHD and succeed. The best treatment plan for one person may vary from that of another. It is okay if it takes trial and error to find out what works for you or your child. If someone has a co-occurring or comorbid concern alongside ADHD, such as depression, autism spectrum disorder, or an anxiety disorder, this may be addressed as well.

Managing ADHD

Since childhood ADHD is likely to persist, management is crucial. Some of these, a person may learn in therapy, whereas other tips a person might benefit from can be specific to who they are as a person, what stage of life they're in, and so on. In general, learning to live in a way that suits your brain and your needs is powerful, at least to the extent that you are able. This is true for kids, and it's also true for adults. Here are some tips that may help a person manage ADHD:

  • Classroom/educational modifications. For children, or for teens and adults who are in college, educational accommodations and modifications can be advantageous.
  • Workplace accommodations. For adults, workplace accommodations can help. If it's possible, some people find that looking for a career that works for their brain is beneficial.
  • Apps and games like Joon. Games that can help address ADHD symptoms are just beginning to gain approval. Joon is for kids aged 8-12, and it is designed to help children with ADHD focus and complete daily tasks.
  • Body doubling and similar techniques. If you find it tough to complete a task on your own, the stimulation of having another person there can help. This, essentially, is what body doubling refers to.
  • Charts and lists. For kids, things like reward systems and behavior charts can be helpful. Adults can use similar practices.
  • An ADHD coach. Some individuals benefit from working with an ADHD coach. A coach doesn't replace the role of a therapist. Instead, they're often there to help a person make and achieve goals.

ADHD symptoms can come with various challenges, some of which those without ADHD may not understand. Some find it beneficial to connect with other people who live with ADHD for this reason. You may be able to find other people who live with ADHD by looking for a support group.

Support groups are often free of cost and may meet in person or virtually. Regardless, if you live with ADHD or think that you might be, know that you aren't alone. Take the first step and reach out to a trusted medical professional.

Takeaway

Most of the time, children don't grow out of ADHD. Instead, a person's ADHD symptoms may change as they age. Children might face challenges in school, play activities, and more, whereas adults may face challenges at work, in adult relationships, and other areas of adult life due to symptoms. ADHD treatments can be effective both for kids and adults, and whether or not you're diagnosed as a child or adult, proper treatment for ADHD can help.

This article is for informational purposes and is not a substitute for individual medical or mental health advice. Please consult with your or your child's prescribing doctor before changing, starting, or stopping a medication routine.