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New Research: 60 Percent of Children with ADHD Will Experience Symptoms as Adults

New data from a long-term longitudinal study shows that a majority of children with ADHD will continue to experience ADHD symptoms in adulthood, putting to rest the notion that most patients “outgrow” this disorder.

September 23, 2016

Will your child’s ADHD symptoms fade with age? New data indicates that it is unlikely; ADHD is not a lifelong condition for a majority of patients.

In a long-term study conducted over nearly 20 years by the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 60 percent of children with ADHD continued to show symptoms in adulthood. The study, published September 19 in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, was part of the multi-site Multimodal Treatment Study of Children with ADHD (MTA) research project conducted by NIMH. The first results of the MTA were published in 1999, but researchers are still using the follow-up data to draw conclusions about ADHD — particularly how it develops and its myriad treatment options.

In this study, researchers focused on the rate at which childhood ADHD symptoms persist into adulthood; previous studies have produced wildly inconsistent numbers ranging from 5 to 75 percent. They looked at nearly 700 patients from the MTA, about two-thirds of whom had been diagnosed with ADHD as children. Using parent rating scales, self-reports, and structured clinical interviews, the researchers found that approximately 60 percent of the children with ADHD still had demonstrable symptoms as adults. About 41 percent of them still demonstrated significant impairment from those ADHD symptoms.

The results varied based on the method of diagnosis, the researchers said. Outside rating scales (particularly from parents or other family members) were more accurate than self-reports, leading researchers to believe that many adults may not be fully aware of how their symptoms affect them and others.

“If you ask the adult about their continued symptoms, they will often be unaware of them,” said Dr. Margaret Sibley, the lead author of the study. “However, family members or others who know them well often confirm that they still observe significant symptoms in the adult.”

To more accurately assess the health of older patients, Sibley added, we must adjust diagnostic tools to more accurately reflect how ADHD looks in adults, instead of using the same scales that are used on children.

“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,” she concluded.

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