ADHD News & Research

New Study: Children Don’t Outgrow ADHD

Not long ago, ADHD symptoms like hyperactivity and inattention were thought to a temporary childhood phenomenon. In time, we were told, our kids would outgrow them. New research suggests that theory is wrong — and it reflects a grossly simplified view of ADHD.

September 1, 2015

“He’ll outgrow it.” It’s a common refrain repeated to parents of hyperactive or inattentive children who would benefit from an ADHD evaluation. It’s also a myth. The truth is that two-thirds of children diagnosed with ADHD continue to struggle with the condition into adulthood.

Recent research by the University of Cambridge, published in European Child Adolescent Psychiatry, completed fMRI scans of 49 Finnish young adults who were diagnosed with ADHD at age 16. The researchers looked at brain structure, and tested the participants’ memory function. Researchers found that all participants had reduced brain volume in the caudate nucleus and poorer recall when compared to a control group of individuals without ADHD.

Previous statistics suggested that 9% of children between ages 4 to 17 have ADHD. Of those, it was believed 10 to 50% still qualified as having the condition into adulthood. Many presumed that this meant children were outgrowing their symptoms.

The Cambridge researchers propose another explanation. These early statistics, they say, ignored key differences in the brain that persist even in adults who don’t meet the typical symptom criteria used for an ADHD diagnosis. They point, in particular, to a sluggish response in a region of the brain that controls memory response. One third of the Finnish research subjects failed the memory test, much higher than the 5% failure rate of the control group, demonstrating a persistent impact on the lives of these adults.

While it’s possible this deficit could decrease as participants’ brains continue to mature into their 30s, the researchers suggest it’s time to reconsider how we evaluate and measure ADHD in adulthood, because the current standards could be missing important diagnostic criteria.