New research suggests that some 60 percent of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) continue to have symptoms into their mid-20s.
Moreover, 41 percent had both symptoms and impairment as young adults.
“There has been a lot of recent controversy over whether children with ADHD continue to experience symptoms into adulthood,” said Dr. Margaret Sibley, lead author of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry study.
Prior investigations varied greatly, depending on diagnostic differences and how information was collected and analyzed.
In the current study — a 16-year follow-up of the Multimodal Treatment Study of Children with ADHD (the “MTA”) — researchers found that a combination of parent and self-reports plus a symptom threshold that is adjusted for adulthood (rather than based on traditional childhood definitions of ADHD) may be optimal.
“This study found that the way you diagnose ADHD can lead to different conclusions about whether or not an adult still has the disorder that started in childhood,” said Sibley, assistant professor in the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine at Florida International University.
“First, if you ask the adult about their continued symptoms, they will often be unaware of them; however, family members or others who know them well often confirm that they still observe significant symptoms in the adult.”
Sibley added that if the classic childhood definition of ADHD is used when diagnosing adults, many cases will be missed because symptom presentation changes in adulthood.
“By asking a family member about the adult’s symptoms and using adult-based definitions of the disorder, you typically find that around half of children with moderate to severe ADHD still show significant signs of the disorder in adulthood.”