Can You Outgrow ADHD?

Many parents of children who are diagnosed with ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, are told it is a lifelong condition. According to some recent research, however, this may not always be the case. According to one study published in the Journal of Development and Behavioral Pediatrics, approximately 30 to 60 percent of adolescents diagnosed with the condition reach a point where they do not meet the criteria according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM).

However, study author and director of the Center for Management of ADHD at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Thomas Powell thinks that the question, “Can you outgrow ADHD?” is a difficult one to answer

Experts in the mental health field are divided on whether these patients actually outgrew ADHD or not, but all of them do agree that the answer is complicated. There may be a genetic component to outgrowing the condition, or it may be possible that therapy, positive coping strategies, and career choices can play a significant role in reducing symptoms, making it seem that a person no longer has the condition.

But some experts, including Dr. Russel Barkley, clinical professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center and specializing in psychiatry, state that just because a person no longer meets the criteria to be diagnosed according to the DSM, it does not mean that a person no longer struggles with issues related to ADHD. He asserts that although people might outgrow the criteria, they might still struggle with aspects of the disorder. 

A diagnosis of ADHD in a young child is dependent on feedback from people who are in regular contact with a child, including parents, clinicians and teachers. But when a person grows older, whether a late adolescent or an adult, assessment is more based on reports from an individual rather than outside sources. And these reports are not always accurate for several reasons.

First of all, people with ADHD have a tendency to lessen their symptoms or underreport them when explaining them to a medical professional. Another challenge with diagnosing an individual with ADHD (or one previously diagnosed as no longer having the condition) is finding out whether the mental health disorder is actually outgrown or if the person has developed ways to cope so it is not as much of a problem.

Diagnosing ADHD isn’t simple. ADHD diagnosis criteria doesn’t involve a simple blood test to determine whether a person has the condition. ADHD occurs instead on a spectrum on which there are many different levels of severity. Some people fall on that spectrum while others don’t but yet still struggle more than the “average person.”

Some psychologists still diagnose adults as having ADHD even if they are not displaying symptoms if they had the condition as a child. Others assert that if an individual’s coping skills are improved, a diagnosis of ADHD may not be necessary. In most situations, doctors recommend a combination of treatments, including behavioral intervention, medication and counseling to meet a child with ADHD’s needs. If the child is able to manage his or her symptoms, he may reach a point where the condition is not as much of a problem in his life. Because of this, equipping those who battle the condition to have success in life overall, including their education, might be helpful in helping one to “outgrow” the condition.

Developmental behavioral pediatrician in Los Gatos, CA, Dr. Damon Korb, states that the best evidence for improving challenges associated with ADHD is linked with behavioral training for both the child and parent. He says that when parents are better equipped on how to work with their children and their ADHD diagnosis, those kids often have a better outcome

A detailed school plan for each individual student has been proven to be helpful. Parents need to know how their children best learn and which avenues are most appropriate. For example, some students might be gifted academically but lack some of the skills that are necessary for managing their education, including forgetfulness when it comes to handing in school work, completing school work and studying. 

Some students with ADHD may benefit more from remote learning as they do not have to remember to bring their assignments or iPads or Chromebooks. Other students may need more of a support system and structure that only in-person school can offer. Academic success in students with ADHD is highly dependent on both students and parents developing a strong relationship with teachers. Furthermore, not every parent of a child with ADHD is aware that students diagnosed with the ADHD condition are eligible for a 504 plan that provides specific accommodations, including distraction-free settings and/or extra time for completing schoolwork or testing. This can also be altered if a student does not attend in-person classes. 

It is important that people with ADHD learn organizational skills. External systems can be taught with adult supervision from teachers and parents in addition to reinforcement. Check-ins are recommended for ADHD students to ensure they stay on track. Career choices can also play into a person’s long term struggles with the condition, just as educational struggles can. A mismatch between a person’s strengths and behavior required can play a role in how much a person experiences ADHD-related impairment. 

Some experts do assert that ADHD can be outgrown, but ultimately, guidance from parents and teachers during the adolescence period can ensure a greater outcome for how one experiences the condition, even if the condition is actually “outgrown” or not

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This article was written by Ms. Courtney Cosby and edited by Dr. Majid Fotuhi.