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Living with ADHD: Is There a Difference Between Childhood, Adolescent, and Adult ADHD?

The National Institute of Mental Health defines attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as “the inability to pay attention, inability to control impulsive behaviors, and an inability to control constant movement.” ADHD, also known by its now-outdated term, ADD, is commonly associated with children. 

When we think of someone having ADHD, we often imagine a child running around uncontrollably and don’t picture adults. Many people believe that with time, kids outgrow ADHD. Children with ADHD may become less hyperactive and more focused as their brains develop. 

Some critics even question whether or not ADHD is a real diagnosis. The critics of the ADHD diagnosis say that children diagnosed with this disorder are acting accordingly as they are naturally energetic and inattentive. Let’s look at these questions and see if it’s possible to be an adult with ADHD. 

Is it Possible to Outgrow ADHD?

Is it possible to “outgrow” ADHD? It seems odd that one day, a child may no longer be hyperactive or have the symptoms of ADHD. The answer is complicated. 

There are some kids who appear to outgrow ADHD — but is this really the case? Perhaps the children who have been purported to outgrow this hyperactivity disorder initially had a mild form of ADHD. 

In some cases, people living with ADHD have learned how to mitigate their symptoms. This causes the disorder to be less intrusive. It is important to note that for people who have been diagnosed with childhood ADHD, the likelihood that they may have been misdiagnosed is always possible. 

Although it appears that some kids outgrow their symptoms of ADHD, no one is sure of the cause. Most times, the child may have outgrown ADHD and other disorders as their brain continues to grow and form new neural connections. 

Not Everyone Is Diagnosed With ADHD in Childhood 

Many parents and medical professionals erroneously associate an ADHD diagnosis with childhood. However, many people are actually diagnosed with ADHD later in life. The inability to control impulsive behaviors, constant movement, and impulsive behaviors also occurs in adults with ADHD.  

Adults who have been diagnosed with ADHD may have exhibited similar symptoms in childhood that were overlooked and attributed to being a child. Ignoring the symptoms of ADHD in adults is less likely to happen as we naturally expect adults to be more responsible and more in control of their behavior than their childhood counterparts. 

Childhood, Teen/Adolescent, and Adult ADHD Symptoms 

ADHD has many faces that can show up differently in adults, teens, and children. Many feel that the difference in the effects of ADHD are because of issues with genetics or brain developments that appear to correct themselves on their own as children grow into adolescence and adulthood. Let’s look at how symptoms of adolescent, childhood, and adult ADHD differ.  

Childhood ADHD 

A child with ADHD has many challenges to deal with. Children with an ADHD diagnosis often feel fidgety and unable to control their impulses or movements. Children who have been diagnosed with ADHD may have issues with authority figures and school officials. School officials and authority figures often see their impulsive behaviors as defiant. 

We may see a child with ADHD as selfish or disobedient because they may interrupt or not act as expected and go against social norms in social situations. Children with ADHD are rarely quiet while playing, and may talk constantly (even in situations where quiet is conventionally the norm like in public libraries or schools.) 

Teen/Adolescent ADHD

Adolescents with ADHD are at the in-between stages in life, placing them squarely between childhood and adulthood. Adolescents with ADHD may vacillate between both ends of the spectrum. Not quite kids, not quite adults, teens are more controlled in their social interactions than children with ADHD as they inch toward adulthood. 

However, adolescents and teens may still have school troubles because of issues with hyperactivity and a need for constant movement. A teen with ADHD may be more independent than a child, but their ADHD makes it harder for them to keep a job as they battle the symptoms. 

When adolescents learn to drive, they may struggle with driving too fast and not paying attention because of ADHD, which can cause legal issues. Many teens and adolescents have developed issues with substance abuse as a result of trying to cope with the unpredictable symptoms of ADHD. 

Adult ADHD 

Adult ADHD is like teen ADHD with a lot more at stake. An adult may struggle with holding a job and have legal issues with driving (like adolescents and teens). However, the consequences for taking part in the same actions as kids and teens suffering from ADHD are more severe. 

A child or teen with ADHD may have to deal with school punishment or parental punishment, but an ADHD adult may lose their job, have a hard time with relationships, or have trouble staying in one place. An adult with ADHD needs to learn to stay focused despite everything life throws at them and can get help by speaking with a licensed counselor or therapist. 

Seek Help for Managing Your ADHD Symptoms

If you or your child has ADHD, it is important to recognize that this is no one’s fault. ADHD is a health issue that affects behavior and brain development that is still being studied and tested. 

As we learn more, people with ADHD need to learn how to manage their symptoms to enjoy healthy and productive lives. It is possible for people with ADHD (of any age) to live happy lives. Through a combination of therapy with licensed mental health professionals, medication management, and support resources, people living with ADHD have been able to thrive. 

One of the best things about the latest developments in ADHD research is that people who are diagnosed early can receive treatment early. Early intervention and treatment are factors that may contribute to why it appears that some kids outgrow ADHD. 


There is hope for adults, children, and teens who have been recently diagnosed with ADHD. An ADHD diagnosis can happen at any age. The great news is that there are ways to cope. People living with ADHD can learn new coping strategies and life skills for productive living with ADHD through community counseling, family support, and independent research on coping skills. 

By seeking help and committing to your own health, well-being, and success, you can live a productive life with ADHD — at any age.