It’s estimated that nearly 10% of all children in the United States — or approximately 6 million preschoolers, grade schoolers, and teenagers — have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a neurobehavioral condition that limits the brain’s ability to regulate important executive functioning skills.
While all young children and many adolescents are sometimes restless, distractible, and impervious to adult instruction, kids with ADHD demonstrate these traits to a much greater degree and far more frequently than most of their peers, or what’s generally expected for their age.
Inattention, impulsivity, hyperactivity, and other prominent signs and symptoms of ADHD, which typically emerge before the age of 12, are often first noticed in the classroom or other social settings. Because these symptoms tend to evolve as children get older, many people believe that most children will eventually “outgrow” the disorder itself.
But that notion isn’t completely accurate. Let’s explore what childhood ADHD is usually like, how it evolves over time, and whether or not the condition can simply disappear with age.
ADHD is a common childhood mental health condition that makes it unusually difficult for kids to apply organizational and self-regulating skills, also known as executive function. When a child’s executive function isn’t working as it should, it can be more difficult for them to stay focused, listen attentively, sit quietly, shift from one situation to another, follow directions, and control random impulses.
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms are divided into two general categories: behaviors that are inattentive, and those that are either impulsive or hyperactive.
Children who are easily distracted or have trouble focusing — but aren’t usually restless or impulsive — have a more inattentive type of ADHD. Because these kids are less prone to problematic behavior, they’re often diagnosed at an older age, when it becomes harder to keep up in school.
Children who fidget a lot, have trouble sitting still, talk excessively, frequently interrupt others, or find it challenging to wait their turn may have a more hyperactive or impulsive type of ADHD. These kids are often diagnosed earlier in life, because their symptoms are more likely to lead to disruptive behaviors.
The majority of kids who are diagnosed with ADHD, however, demonstrate a combination of both types of symptoms. For these children, the basic inability to settle down, pay attention, and follow through on everyday tasks can make it very challenging to live up to expectations in school and at home. It can also make it harder to get along with peers, siblings, teachers, and parents.
Symptom control and evolution
Childhood ADHD is typically addressed through a multidisciplinary treatment approach that combines behavioral therapy with talk therapy, cognitive strategies, and medication, when appropriate.
Behavioral therapy aims to help children monitor and control their own behavior. This can often be accomplished by training parents, caregivers, and teachers how to provide positive feedback for desired behaviors, as well as appropriate consequences for negative ones.
Cognitive strategies are designed to help children become more aware and accepting of their own thoughts and feelings as they strive to improve focus and control. These strategies can help them learn the power of mindfulness as they continue to grow and develop.
Regardless of the treatment plan that’s in place, you can expect your child’s ADHD symptoms to evolve as they get older. Hyperactive symptoms tend to decline as children advance through elementary school, while inattentive symptoms tend to intensify through adolescence when school work becomes more difficult and kids are not as closely supervised.
Given that ADHD symptoms change and often become more controlled as kids grow and develop, most parents want to know if their child will eventually outgrow the disorder.
To answer that question as completely and accurately as possible, it’s important to remember that ADHD is a neurobehavioral condition that has no cure and often persists, to some degree, throughout a person’s lifespan. Or to put it another way: Not all children with ADHD become adults with ADHD, but many do.
Although an estimated one-third of all children with ADHD no longer meet the diagnostic criteria for the disorder by the time they’re young adults, about two-thirds of kids with ADHD continue to experience symptoms and challenges that require treatment into adulthood and throughout their lives.
While there’s no way to know whether or not your child will eventually “outgrow” their ADHD, children who experience severe symptoms are more likely to become adults with ADHD. Similarly, children whose ADHD is accompanied by depression, anxiety, or another psychiatric disorder are also more likely to carry the condition into adulthood.
Here at Valencia Pediatrics, we know that ADHD is a complex disorder that affects each child in a highly individual way. If you’re interested in finding management strategies and treatment solutions that fit your family’s life, we can help.
Call our office in Victorville, California, or use our easy online tool to schedule an appointment with Dr. Valencia any time.