People throughout the United States have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Children with this disorder make up 8.4% of the population, which is equal to millions of children. Adults can also struggle with attention problems, although changing symptoms cause many people to assume their ADHD stopped after childhood. However, around 2.5% of adults are also diagnosed with ADHD.
Working, playing, and interacting with others can be challenging for someone with ADHD. Without treatment, it can hinder a child’s growth and an adult’s ability to achieve their goals. What does ADHD look like, and how can it be diagnosed? Is ADHD a condition that can be overcome? Find out how ADHD can be treated and how it can be managed.
How Does ADHD Affect Children?
Adults can sometimes be diagnosed with ADHD, even though the disorder is often associated with children. ADHD may affect children differently than it would affect adults. Because of this, many people assume ADHD is only a problem for children. As you get older, ADHD symptoms may change. Still, children are often significantly affected by ADHD, and it can get in the way of their development, schooling, and socialization.
ADHD in adults and children differs greatly in terms of hyperactivity. Hyperactivity and impulsivity are expressed and experienced differently by adults and children. Hyperactivity in children may mean squirming in their seats, getting up frequently, and fidgeting. It may be difficult for them to sit for long periods. They may also run, climb, and play when they shouldn’t. They may get in trouble for being disruptive in classroom situations frequently.
Children may also experience the following consequences of ADHD:
- Social isolation
- Poor grades
- Poor test-taking skills
- Frequently getting in trouble at school
- Low tolerance for frustration
Adults may feel hyperactive impulses, but they may express them differently. They may feel more restless internally. It may be uncomfortable for them to sit still for long periods of time, and they may feel compelled to get up, pace, or leave. During long meetings, meals, or leisure activities like watching movies, it may be difficult to sit still.
It is possible for adults to feel impatient. They may avoid situations and activities that require patience. It is common for many adults with ADHD to finish other people’s sentences, interrupt, and talk excessively during conversations. Often, adults work in highly active jobs that change frequently. Additionally, they may have a tendency to drive too fast or misuse substances.
Can Children Outgrow ADHD?
Since ADHD symptoms can change as children grow, the disorder was once thought to be something you could outgrow when you reach adulthood. This is why ADHD was originally thought to affect children exclusively. But research has led to a better understanding of the disorder, and it’s clear that ADHD can and does follow people into adulthood.
But is it possible to outgrow ADHD?
Over time, some children experience fewer ADHD problems until their lives are no longer significantly affected. However, this may be because they are learning coping techniques that allow them to deal with symptoms in a way that prevents them from disrupting their life. Adaptation may be possible over time for children with mild or moderate ADHD. But since ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, the differences in the brain that caused symptoms will remain, even though you find a way to cope with them.
Children likely won’t be able to outgrow ADHD, but their symptoms may improve over time, especially with treatment. Still, untreated ADHD can continue to cause problems into adulthood.
What Are the Signs, Symptoms, and Types of ADHD?
There are three major symptoms of ADHD: inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. Each of these subtypes may come with a unique set of symptoms. The type of ADHD you have depends on which of these three symptoms you experience the most. You should keep in mind that mental health issues are often complicated, so ADHD may not fall into a specific category.
ADHD symptoms may vary from person to person, and there may be a mix of types. If that’s the case, you will fall into the combination ADHD category since you aren’t dominant in any of the types. It is still helpful to understand each type of ADHD, whether you suffer from it yourself or your child suffers from it. Here’s a breakdown of each of the three major subtypes and their symptoms:
The inattentive subtype of ADHD involves symptoms that make it difficult to maintain focus on tasks or stay motivated through obligations. Children with this type of ADHD will have trouble paying attention to lessons or instructions. They may seem forgetful, especially when it comes to details. Other symptoms may include:
- Difficulty listening to details
- Easily distracted
- Trouble with organization
- Tasks are left unfinished
- Forgetful of routine chores
- Frequent careless mistakes
The hyperactive-impulsive subtype involves symptoms that cause restlessness and impulsivity that are difficult to control. Children with this subtype may be disruptive in class, fidget, and be quick to run, jump, and climb. Many children are playful and active, but children with hyperactive ADHD will have trouble controlling urges to be active when it is inappropriate or even dangerous. Other symptoms include:
- Fidgeting or squirming
- Constant talking
- Trouble doing quiet tasks
- Running from place to place
- Constantly leaving their seat, jumping or climbing
- Little to no patience
- Speaking at inappropriate times
- Interrupting conversations
- Trouble waiting for a turn
The combination subtype involves symptoms from both other subtypes. No single other type is dominant. The combination type of ADHD is very common, and many children experience hyperactive and inattentive symptoms.
How Does ADHD Affect a Child’s Brain?
Anatomical and functional differences in the brain are believed to cause ADHD. It is possible that low levels of a chemical called dopamine may be responsible for many ADHD symptoms. Reward, pleasure, and focus are all controlled by dopamine, which is a natural neurotransmitter. When you do pleasant activities like eating your favorite meal, dopamine is released in high quantities.
Whenever you perform a routine task, you release small amounts of dopamine. Dopamine helps you motivate yourself to accomplish tasks. Ambient dopamine levels are thought to be lower in people with ADHD. In order to find motivation, their brains search for a better source of dopamine. Someone with ADHD may find it impossible to resist even small distractions.
Can ADHD Start In Adulthood?
ADHD is not known to start in adulthood, and new symptoms that you experience as an adult likely don’t point to ADHD. Children who have not been affected by ADHD do not suddenly develop ADHD symptoms as adults. A person must have experienced ADHD symptoms before the age of 12 in order to be officially diagnosed with ADHD. Due to the fact that ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, it is present at a very young age, if not from birth.
If you had ADHD as a child, you would still have ADHD as an adult. It is important to note that not everyone with ADHD is diagnosed as a child. Even if you have never been diagnosed with ADHD as a child, you can be diagnosed as an adult. However, if you did not develop symptoms of ADHD as a child and struggle with symptoms later in life, you could be suffering from other disorders, such as sleep disorders, brain injury, anxiety, or depression.
Diagnosing ADHD can be challenging. Symptoms of ADHD can vary greatly from person to person, and a doctor or psychologist typically diagnoses it primarily through observational analysis. Diagnosis cannot be made more conclusively through medical tests or exams.
If you’re an adult seeking a diagnosis, you may have had ADHD all along. It is also possible for ADHD symptoms to manifest differently as a person ages. However, a blood test and physical exam can rule out other potential causes of your symptoms.
A person can also mask ADHD symptoms by finding ways to cope with them. A person may adopt healthy or unhealthy coping strategies like fidgeting, using organizational tools, incorporating a lot of exercise into their schedules, or drinking lots of caffeine. A person must have symptoms that are causing a disorder in their lives for them to be diagnosed with ADHD.
How Is ADHD Treated?
ADHD is a chronic condition, but it can be treated and managed. Children with ADHD can be treated with medications and psychotherapy. A child’s treatment may differ from an adult’s treatment. Generally, medications shouldn’t be given to children under six years of age until other options have been explored. In addition to medication, children over age 6 can benefit from behavioral therapies, and parent training may be an effective first-line treatment.
People with behavioral problems can benefit from various behavioral therapies. In the classroom, children who can’t sit still or feel restless can learn coping skills through certain behavioral therapies. Due to the prevalence of ADHD among children, teachers may also undergo training to help these students succeed in the classroom.
In addition to stimulant medications, ADHD is also treated with methylphenidate and amphetamine. Adderall and Ritalin are common stimulant prescriptions. People with ADHD can avoid the symptoms associated with low dopamine levels by taking stimulants, which increase dopamine levels in the brain.
The FDA has approved atomoxetine, a non-stimulant medication, for treating ADHD. Strattera is a brand name for atomoxetine. In people with ADHD, it decreases impulsivity and distractibility by increasing norepinephrine levels in the brain.
In older children and adults with ADHD, medications like Ritalin and Adderall are often the first-line treatment. In order to treat this disorder effectively and comprehensively, medication and therapy may be combined. Neither ADHD nor any other mental illness can be treated with a magic-bullet medication.
The first time you take medication, it’s important to keep track of your symptoms and side effects. Choosing the right medication and dose may require you to work closely with your doctor.