For Most Children, ADHD Continues Into Adulthood, Study Finds

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Key Takeaways

  • In most people with ADHD, the disorder comes and goes over their lifetime.
  • However, a new study found that only 10 percent of children with ADHD will outgrow the disorder.
  • This makes finding the right management tools crucial, say experts.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects around 5% to 10% of the population and, in most people, it waxes and wanes over their lifetime. According to a Multimodal Treatment of ADHD (MTA) study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, only 10% of kids with ADHD outgrow the disorder.

Lead researcher Margaret H. Sibley, PhD., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine and a researcher at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, said the study was important because doctors still aren’t sure whether children with ADHD can fully recover from it. 

“Most research tracking children with ADHD over time stops after one adult check-in,” explains Sibley. “In fact, estimates of how many children outgrow their ADHD range from 20% to 95%.”

The MTA study was different because it followed up with its participants every two years until they were around 25 years old. This allowed the researchers to look at trends over time in ADHD symptoms, and not just a single snapshot of adulthood. 

“Patients with ADHD need to know what to expect will happen to their symptoms as they grow older so that they can plan for their future,” Sibley says. 

A Closer Look at the Research 

The MTA study followed a group of 558 children with ADHD for 16 years, from age 8 to age 25. The participants had eight assessments given every two years to establish whether they had ADHD symptoms. The researchers also got input from their family members and teachers about their symptoms.

The study notes that decades of research characterize ADHD as a neurobiological disorder that is typically first detected in childhood. ADHD persists into adulthood in approximately 50% of cases. The MTA researchers found in their study that just 10% of children completely outgrow it.

Margaret H. Sibley, PhD

Patients with ADHD need to know what to expect will happen to their symptoms as they grow older so that they can plan for their future.

— Margaret H. Sibley, PhD

“Although about one in three children will experience full remission of their ADHD at some point between age 8 and 25, in most cases, ADHD will return within four years,” says Sibley. 

While the study found that it was very rare for an individual to recover from ADHD and stay recovered, it was also very rare for an individual to meet the full criteria for ADHD at all nine time points in the study. “Professionals should continue to monitor their patients with ADHD over time, even after symptoms appear to have dissipated,” Sibley says. 

ADHD in Kids

About 9.4% of children ages 2 to 17 in the United States have ever been diagnosed with ADHD, according to the 2016 National Survey of Children's Health. Researchers say ADHD is characterized by two main clusters of symptoms—inattentive symptoms such as lack of concentration and forgetfulness, and hyperactive symptoms like constantly fidgeting, running around, and jumping on things. But ADHD disorder manifests differently in everybody, and often changes depending on their life stage.

Coping with ADHD

It’s important for people diagnosed with ADHD to understand that it's normal to have times in your life where things feel more manageable, and other times when you feel like you have less control. There is a range of tools to help with this.

“ADHD has long been shown to be a disorder that can be managed with appropriate tools, including medication and cognitive-behavioral strategies that help with organization, procrastination, memory, and time management,” Sibley says. 

She adds that ADHD also can be managed well when patients find environments at school, work, and home that make them feel successful.

“For many people with ADHD, the key to well-managed symptoms may be finding the right supports in your life and choosing a career path based on your strengths and your interests,” Sibley explains. “Discovering a path where your ADHD doesn't get in the way of success can contribute to building a happy and healthy life.” 

Pavan Madan, MD

If you get tools and strategies in place at the earliest possible opportunity, your child can build a strong foundation of support from a young age.

— Pavan Madan, MD

When you have a child who has been diagnosed with ADHD, it’s important to educate yourself about the various tools and techniques available. Pavan Madan, MD, an adult, adolescent, and child psychiatrist with Community Psychiatry and MindPath Care Centers, recommends working with the school psychologist to discuss ways in which your child's academic needs can be met. 

"If you get tools and strategies in place at the earliest possible opportunity, your child can build a strong foundation of support from a young age," Madan says. “They can learn to work on their issues before the work gets increasingly challenging, and develop the confidence to be able to master the hurdles in their way."

As Madan explains, it's easier to learn new things and stick to them during childhood, compared to adulthood. Many kids with ADHD continue to have a baseline or flare-up of symptoms later in life, which underscores the importance of learning tools and techniques to address issues, in addition to medication consultation, Madan adds. 

What This Means For You

You may need to try a variety of things to find the best tools for your child with ADHD. Many books are available to provide guidance—ask your school psychologist for recommendations. A good place to start is "Taking Charge of ADHD: The Complete, Authoritative Guide for Parents" by Russell A. Barkley, PhD., or "ADHD: What Everyone Needs to Know" by Stephen P. Hinshaw and Katherine Ellison.

National support organizations that provide education, advocacy, and support for children and adults living with ADHD include CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) and ADDA (Attention Deficit Disorder Association.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Sibley MH et al. Variable Patterns of Remission From ADHD in the Multimodal Treatment Study of ADHD. The American Journal of Psychiatry. 2021 August. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2021.21010032

  2. Danielson ML et al. Prevalence of parent-reported ADHD diagnosis and associated treatment among U.S. children and adolescents, 2016Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology. 2018 Jan. doi:10.1080/15374416.2017.1417860

By Claire Gillespie
Claire Gillespie is a freelance writer specializing in mental health. She’s written for The Washington Post, Vice, Health, Women’s Health, SELF, The Huffington Post, and many more. Claire is passionate about raising awareness for mental health issues and helping people experiencing them not feel so alone.