Myth: ADHD is a Childhood Disorder

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • ADHD was once considered a childhood disorder. It was thought that individuals outgrew the symptoms associated with Attention Deficit Disorder as they grew into adolescence and adulthood. One of the reasons for this theory is that hyperactivity seems to decrease, as children get older. Research, however, has disproved this theory. Hyperactivity, although sometimes not as prevalent in adults, can often be seen as restlessness or being fidgety.


    Some long-term studies show that as many as 70% to 80% of children with ADHD continue symptoms of restlessness and distractibility into adolescence and young adulthood. A large percentage also has co-morbid psychiatric conditions, academic failure and social problems long after childhood is left behind. (Barkley et al. 1990, Barkley, 1998) Additional studies have shown that up to 46% of children with ADHD continue to exhibit symptoms in adulthood.

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    In an October, 2004 article that appeared in Neuropsychiatry Review, Dr. Rafael Klorman explains his viewpoint on adult ADHD. According to Dr. Klorman, children that have been diagnosed with ADHD:


    • Complete an average of 2 years less of education than their peers

    • Hold jobs of lower prestige and have lower earning potential

    • Have a higher chance of being diagnosed with major depression

    • Have increased rates of antisocial personality disorder, anxiety disorders and substance abuse

    • Receive traffic tickets more frequently, have more accidents and more driver’s license suspensions.

    One of the problems facing doctors in diagnosing Attention Deficit Disorder in adults is the DSM-IV criterion. This diagnostic tool has been written based on childhood ADHD symptoms and is not easily translated into symptoms that may appear in adults. In addition, children must meet at least six of the named symptoms. Some medical professionals that work with adults feel that number is too high for adults and should be lowered to three or four.


    While an increasing number of adults seek treatment for ADHD, the number is still much less than children. Adults may have learned behavioral strategies to cope with the daily struggles of ADHD. Some may have accepted symptoms as limitations in their life and some may believe that they have achieved the best they are capable of. There are many adults that are living with ADHD symptoms that do not seek treatment, even though they may be able to accomplish more of their goals with treatment. The same strategies, behavioral modification programs and medications that work well for children have also been found to be effective in adults. Research into adult ADHD continues. It is important to understand why some children do seem to outgrow symptoms. Is this because they have learned strategies to cope with symptoms or have they entered a remission? Unfortunately, these people do not need to seek treatment and therefore it is much more difficult for researchers to find answers. As we continue to understand more about ADHD, both in children and adults, the evaluation, diagnostic process and treatment will continue to improve.


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    Suggested Reading:

    Diagnosing and Treating Adult ADHD

    Tips for Success in Adult Relationships with ADHD

    ADHD at Work



    Moore, Heidi (2004, Oct). Adult ADHD-A Childhood Disorder Grows Up. from Neuropsychiatry Review Web site:

    Teeter Ellison, EdD, Phyllis Anne (2003, June). Myths and Misunderstandings. from National Resource Center on AD/HD Web site:


Published On: July 06, 2007