• ADHD is a developmental disorder that’s typically diagnosed during childhood.
  • While the symptoms of ADHD may change with age, this condition often persists into adulthood.
  • Rather than intensifying with age, ADHD tends to improve, especially with ongoing treatment and management.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is typically diagnosed in childhood. In this age group, symptoms of ADHD may be more obvious in structured settings such as school and during socialization.

While it has been suggested that many children will no longer show symptoms in adulthood, there’s no guarantee that this will happen in all cases.

Overall, it’s estimated that 4.4% or an estimated 1 in 40 adults have ADHD. The prevalence is also slightly higher in men and non-Hispanic white people.

As with all conditions, the exact symptoms and treatment experiences can vary between individuals.

If you’re wondering whether ADHD symptoms intensify with age, here’s what the latest research and experts have to say.

ADHD symptoms typically do not intensify with age. On the contrary, research has shown that adults may experience fluctuating symptoms over time.

While ADHD is diagnosed based on symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity, it’s important to consider that these developmental delays are caused by structural differences in the brain.

So, while symptoms may improve as you mature, such brain differences may remain.

In previous decades, it was thought that children with ADHD would “outgrow” this condition. Interestingly, for this reason, ADHD used to be called “hyperkinetic disorder of childhood.”

Since the mid-1990s, ADHD has been recognized as a condition that can persist into adulthood.

Management for ADHD usually involves long-term treatment with a combination of medications and therapy.

If you currently have untreated or under-treated ADHD, you may experience symptoms that interfere with your daily activities and overall quality of life.

Examples may include difficulties with:

  • maintaining relationships
  • work
  • school/academic performance
  • impulsive behaviors

The overall prognosis can also depend on the severity of ADHD during the childhood years. For example, adults who were previously diagnosed with “mild” ADHD in childhood tend to present more coping skills in adulthood.

The median age of onset for ADHD is 6 years old, with symptoms typically appearing between ages 3 and 6.

The more severe the symptoms, the earlier the diagnosis, with 4 years old being the median age of diagnosis for severe ADHD.

For those who never received a diagnosis during childhood, symptoms of hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsiveness must have been present before the age of 12 in order to be eventually diagnosed with ADHD.

ADHD peaks during childhood. According to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, 50% to 80% of people diagnosed with ADHD as children still meet the criteria as adolescents, and 35% to 65% meet the diagnostic criteria in adulthood.

Between 10% and 20% of children diagnosed with ADHD may no longer meet the official diagnostic criteria in adulthood.

While this may suggest that some people “outgrow” ADHD, this occurs in relatively few cases and may indicate that symptoms have changed over time or that coping mechanisms in place are effective in managing symptoms.

While you might experience improved ADHD symptoms as an adult, the more severe ADHD you had in childhood could predict an increased risk of other mental health conditions as you age.

These include anxiety, mood disorders, and substance use disorders (SUDs), as well as stress and sleep disorders.

In short, yes — ADHD type can change as you get older. This is part of the reason why there’s a misconception that you can “outgrow” ADHD.

There are three main types of ADHD, which can change throughout your life:

  • predominantly hyperactive
  • predominantly inattentive
  • combined hyperactivity and inattention

Symptoms of hyperactivity in ADHD tend to improve the most with age, usually decreasing in late childhood and early adolescence. Examples of notably improved hyperactive symptoms include:

  • seeming to constantly “be on the go”
  • excessive running around
  • excessive climbing
  • talking excessively

However, while ADHD-related hyperactivity improves with age, such symptoms may be replaced with those of restlessness. These can also persist into adulthood.

Impulsive behaviors in ADHD may also improve with age. However, impulsivity can still exist, with consequences being greater due to higher-risk activities engaged in during adulthood. Examples include substance use disorder or even automobile accidents.

One aspect of ADHD that tends to remain stable across all age groups is inattention. While inattentiveness may slightly improve with age, research shows that some symptoms may be severe enough to interfere with daily activities, such as work.

For this reason, there could be a perception that inattention increases with age.

In most people, ADHD tends to continue into adulthood. However, rather than intensifying with age, it’s common for people with ADHD to experience a change in symptom presentation, with reduced hyperactivity most prevalent.

Still, as with other chronic developmental disorders, ADHD is complex, with symptoms and prognosis varying between individuals.

If you’re an adult with ADHD and are concerned that your symptoms may be changing, it’s important to see a doctor for possible treatment.

Through a combination of environmental supports, therapies, and possible medications, a treatment plan can help you better able to manage your everyday activities, including work, socialization, and family responsibilities.