Only 10 per cent of children with ADHD can completely outgrow it, study finds
By Emily Hagan | Published on Oct 19, 2023
ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactive disorder, has long been believed to be a childhood disorder that most children eventually outgrow. However, a recent study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry challenges this widely held belief. The study suggests that the majority of children diagnosed with ADHD do not completely outgrow the disorder, but rather experience its manifestations in different ways throughout their lifetime.
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Lead researcher Margaret Sibley, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine, explains that individuals with ADHD should understand that experiencing periods of unmanageability is normal. She states, “It’s important for people diagnosed with ADHD to understand that it’s normal to have times in your life where things may be more unmanageable and other times when things feel more under control.”
This groundbreaking study involved researchers from 16 institutions across the United States, Canada, and Brazil. Contrary to previous research, which suggested that approximately 50% of individuals with ADHD continue to have symptoms into adulthood, this study found that only 10% of children completely outgrow ADHD.
ADHD is characterized by two main clusters of symptoms: inattentive symptoms and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms. In children, symptoms may include disorganization, forgetfulness, and trouble staying on task. In contrast, adults may exhibit verbal impulsivity, difficulty making decisions, and acting without thinking. It’s important to note that ADHD affects each individual differently and may appear differently depending on the phase of life a person is in.
Interestingly, some individuals with ADHD also report a unique ability to hyper-focus. Olympic athletes such as Michael Phelps and Simone Biles have openly discussed their ADHD diagnoses, shedding light on their remarkable achievements despite their condition.
While many people may experience symptoms similar to ADHD, it is estimated that the disorder affects around 5 to 10% of the population. Sibley emphasizes the significance of this study, which followed a group of 558 children with ADHD from the age of 8 to 25. The researchers conducted eight assessments over a span of 16 years to evaluate the presence of ADHD symptoms. They also gathered input from family members and teachers regarding the participants’ symptoms.
The belief that 50% of children outgrow ADHD was first proposed in the mid-1990s, but most studies only followed up with the participants once they reached adulthood. This study provides a more comprehensive understanding of the long-term effects of ADHD, suggesting that the disorder can resurface even after periods of remission.
The exact causes of ADHD flare-ups are still unknown, but researchers speculate that stress, environmental factors, and an unhealthy lifestyle may contribute to the resurgence of symptoms. Sibley suggests that managing symptoms and adopting a healthy lifestyle, including proper sleep, healthy eating, and regular exercise, can help individuals with ADHD cope effectively.
Medication and therapy are the standard treatments for ADHD, but Sibley encourages individuals to develop their own healthy coping skills as well. The study shows that even individuals who no longer meet the criteria for ADHD in adulthood still exhibit traces of the disorder. However, they have learned to manage their symptoms and lead fulfilling lives.
Finding a job or a passion that aligns with an individual’s strengths and does not interfere with their ADHD is key to success, according to Sibley. She explains that many creative individuals excel in their endeavors despite having ADHD, while others who perform detail-oriented work may struggle.
Sibley advises seeking professional help when ADHD symptoms begin to significantly impact one’s life. This may include difficulties in performing tasks, maintaining relationships, and staying organized.
In conclusion, this study challenges the prevailing notion that most children with ADHD outgrow the disorder. While individual experiences with ADHD vary, understanding and managing symptoms can lead to a fulfilling and successful life. Seeking professional help when necessary and adopting healthy coping strategies are essential steps toward thriving with ADHD.