Can You Develop ADHD in Adulthood?

If you’re having trouble paying attention and staying organized, you may start to wonder if you’re experiencing the effects of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD is a common neurodevelopmental condition that emerges in childhood.

Approximately 10% of all children in the United States — about six million preschoolers, grade-schoolers, and teenagers — have been diagnosed with ADHD. Epidemiological data also indicates the problem affects up to five percent of all adults.  

Symptoms of ADHD, such as inattention, disorganization, and restlessness, typically appear before the age of 12. However, they’re not always noticed, or diagnosed. Because these symptoms tend to evolve with age and improved coping mechanisms, some adults never even knew they had a problem — until stress causes their symptoms to reemerge.    

The medical experts at Family Health Center of Bastrop, with two locations in Bastrop and Smithville, want to help if you feel unusually distracted, scattered, overwhelmed, or impulsive. Here’s what you need to know about ADHD, and what developing ADHD-like symptoms in adulthood may mean. 

Not just for kids

By definition, ADHD is a disorder that first occurs in childhood. Meeting the criteria for a diagnosis at any point in life requires some ADHD symptoms that had been present during your childhood.  

ADHD affects the way a child’s brain works, so they have much more difficulty with 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 too much for them to stay focused, listen attentively, sit quietly, follow directions, and control random impulses.

All children are sometimes restless, distractible, and inattentive. But kids with ADHD demonstrate these traits to a much greater degree and far more frequently than what’s expected for their age.   

Because there’s an overlap between normal inattentiveness and ADHD, not every child with ADHD receives a proper diagnosis. Children can slip through the cracks, so to speak, either because their symptoms were relatively mild or because their parents or pediatrician didn’t consider their behaviors abnormal, disruptive, or troublesome. 

Symptoms evolve

Medical professionals divide ADHD symptoms into two general categories: Behaviors that are inattentive, and those that are impulsive or hyperactive. Some kids have a more inattentive type of ADHD and others have a more hyperactive type. However, most children exhibit symptoms of both types.

Two common misconceptions surround ADHD: 

  1. Most children with ADHD will “outgrow” their symptoms by the time they’re adults. 
  2. Adults can develop ADHD, even if they never had symptoms as a child.

These misconceptions arise because ADHD is a highly individual disorder with symptoms that evolve over time. In general, hyperactive symptoms decline as children advance through elementary school. Inattentive symptoms tend to intensify through adolescence and beyond when schoolwork becomes more difficult and kids have less supervision.  

Whether symptoms grow milder as children learn to cope or not, ADHD is a neurobehavioral condition that has no cure. ADHD persists, to some degree, throughout your life. 

ADHD in adults

An estimated one-third of all children with ADHD no longer meet the diagnostic criteria once they’re adults. However, two-thirds of kids with ADHD continue to experience symptoms and challenges that require treatment throughout their lives.  

If you experience ADHD-like symptoms as an adult — but you were never diagnosed with the condition in your youth — two possibilities exist. Either you’ve always had the disorder, or your current memory issues, distractibility, and feelings of restlessness aren’t actually related to ADHD at all. 

Although you can’t “develop” ADHD as an adult, you may not get a diagnosis until you’re an adult. This is especially true for women who had a quieter, more passive form of inattentive ADHD when they were younger.  

Girls with inattentive-type ADHD are likely to go undiagnosed until they reach adulthood. If they have a child with the disorder and recognize the patterns of behavior, they then seek a professional diagnosis for themselves, too.

If you think you might have ADHD or want to learn more about the condition, contact our office today.

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