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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common condition that affects both adults and children.

The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) estimate that 6.1 percent of children in the United States have been diagnosed with ADHD, and that the condition impacts approximately 4.4 percent of adults.

These statistics would suggest that as you age, the severity and prevalence of ADHD behaviors might decline. And for some people, this is true. But can you really “outgrow” ADHD? The full story is a bit more complicated.

Learn more about how ADHD can change throughout your life and how your treatment and management needs might change as you age.

ADHD is a condition that causes differences in how your brain processes information compared to what is considered “neurotypical” processing. Most people are identified as having ADHD when they’re children because the diagnostic criteria refers to symptoms that must be observed before a child reaches 12 to 16 years old.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), people who are diagnosed with ADHD behave in ways that may be considered to be inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive. These behaviors also tend to be disruptive to a person’s daily functions or not align with typical development milestones.

But there’s no one-size-fits-all definition of what ADHD looks like. These behaviors can vary widely among people and change over time as a person gets older or experiences different

Adults and children with ADHD may appear exceptionally restless and easily bored, especially in environments where silence, solo work, or collaborative work are consistently enforced, such as classrooms or workplaces.

People with ADHD may also appear to have difficulty paying sustained attention to tasks, especially tasks considered rote or routine like homework or household chores. People with ADHD may also seem to have difficulty keeping track of objects and seem more forgetful than people who behave in conventionally neurotypical ways.

What causes ADHD?

The primary causes of ADHD are still being researched. Possible links include:

Are there any risk factors for ADHD?

Boys are more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD. This doesn’t necessarily mean that boys more typically have ADHD. In many cases, social expectations can encourage boys to exhibit behaviors that are more easily defined by the diagnostic criteria of ADHD.

ADHD is not necessarily something that you outgrow. ADHD behaviors are connected to the typical development stages of youth, adolescence, and adulthood.

Just as a child’s behavior changes as they age, and they learn different behaviors appropriate to different environments, so too do the outward behaviors associated with ADHD change in response to new stimuli.

It’s also possible that you may no longer fit the criteria for a formal ADHD diagnosis as you age. But that doesn’t always mean that all of your ADHD-associated behaviors will go away. And in some cases, you may not receive an ADHD diagnosis until later in life or never receive one at all.

Children

Children tend to receive an ADHD diagnosis around age 7.

Behaviors associated with ADHD tend to become noticeable during the elementary school years, and include:

  • inability to focus
  • difficulty staying on task
  • physical restlessness

Primary school years also tend to be when children are the most restless and have difficulty focusing even without ADHD, especially as they transition from a home environment into a group environment like a classroom.

Some physiological differences have also been noted in children with ADHD.

The pre-frontal cortex, a part of your brain that helps you plan and pay attention, has been shown to be smaller in at least one study of children with ADHD. But the pre-frontal cortex has not been found to be smaller in adults with ADHD.

This is thought to result from children with ADHD having a pre-frontal cortex that is developmentally 2 to 3 years behind their peers. But as children grow older, the pre-frontal cortex matures. By around age 25, the pre-frontal cortex is typically fully developed.

This means that it’s possible for people with ADHD to “catch up” developmentally once they reach adulthood. This could partly explain why ADHD behaviors may seem less noticeable for people as they age.

Adults

As you grow older, you may find that your ADHD-associated behaviors aren’t as noticeable. This could be due in part to developing coping mechanisms that “mask” your behaviors.

Your impulse control, restlessness, and ability to focus will also typically improve as you age as a result of learning the rules and structures of different environments. This can also downplay the presence of ADHD behaviors.

But even if your behaviors are harder for others to notice, this doesn’t mean that you no longer experience the external and internal characteristics of ADHD yourself. Researchers are increasingly discovering that ADHD behaviors can continue well into adulthood, even if they are sometimes harder to detect as a person grows older.

And while it would appear that many people do experience less adversity related to ADHD as they age, more research is needed to understand how ADHD impacts the adult brain.

People who meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD as an adult may have behaviors that become more apparent due to the challenges of adult relationships, work commitments, or other stressors like finances or environment changes like moving to a new home.

If you are diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, it’s likely that you’ve had the condition for your life but were never formally diagnosed. It may also seem less likely that you will “grow out” of certain ADHD-associated behaviors if they are noticeable enough to receive a diagnosis as an adult.

To be diagnosed as an adult, you must present at least five ADHD diagnostic criteria in two different settings (for example, at your home and at your workplace).

If your behaviors are noticeable enough to merit a formal diagnosis as an adult, the focus will be on behavioral management without an expectation that you will “grow out” of the condition.

Treatments for ADHD can vary according to your age and individual support needs.

Treating ADHD in children

Current CDC guidance for treating ADHD in children includes:

  • Behavioral therapy by a professional to manage symptoms. These therapies are first-line treatments for children 6 and under in whom side effects of certain medications have yet to be well-studied.
  • Parental training in ADHD-behavior interventions so parents can learn to receptive to their children’s support needs.
  • Support from educational professionals, such as a child’s teacher, to provide ADHD accommodations in classrooms or other environments.
  • Stimulant medications, such as Adderall and Dexedrine, that modulate the hormones dopamine and norepinephrine to increase concentration.
  • Non-stimulant medications, such as Guanfacine, to address memory issues or disruptive behaviors.

Dosage recommendations and side effects differ between children and adults.

Treating ADHD in Adults

Managing ADHD symptoms looks different when you are an adult. Many of the same strategies are used, such as stimulant or non-stimulant medications.

Behavioral interventions, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, may also be recommended.

Because parents or classroom support staff aren’t typically present to reinforce behavioral interventions or treatments, you may opt to live with a support person. This person isn’t usually a medical professional but rather a person you trust who lives with you to help address daily tasks.

Any medical treatments for children or adults ADHD should be supervised by a medical professional or licensed mental health professional.

Talk to a doctor if you’d like to try other management techniques for ADHD and want to learn how they may work for you. Possible treatments include:

  • Changing your diet. Some people report that eliminating food additives, such as artificial preservatives and cutting back on sweeteners, help reduce the disruption of ADHD behaviors.
  • Adding supplements. Some people with ADHD also report that oral nutritional supplements like zinc, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids help manage disruptive behaviors.
  • Regular aerobic exercisecan help children and adults with ADHD manage behaviors.
  • Practicing mindfulness and meditation can help improve focus or reduce feelings of restlessness.

ADHD-associated behaviors tend to change as you age. For many people, behaviors become more manageable and have less of a disruptive impact on daily life.

Coping mechanisms, treatment plans, and being away from a structured classroom environment could all explain why ADHD seems less noticeable in many adults. Some people continue to present ADHD behaviors into adulthood, and others are not diagnosed until they are adults.

Talk to a doctor for a treatment plan to manage ADHD into adulthood and adapt that plan as you grow older.