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Do ADHD Symptoms Diminish in Adolescence?


The idea that symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) decrease as a child enters adolescence is highly arguable. Some experts believe that as children age, they outgrow many of the behaviors that resulted in a clinical diagnosis of ADHD. Impulsivity, inattention, and physical hyperactivity may decrease in some children with ADHD as they learn behavior modification. Maturity may be the reason many of these children outgrow their challenging conduct. But recently, mental health professionals have begun to question the accuracy of adolescent ADHD screenings. The current diagnosis threshold requires the presence of four symptoms of ADHD in adolescence. However, the symptoms exhibited by many teens with ADHD may not meet the criteria. As children with ADHD mature, their symptoms change. Children who may have been overly active in childhood may become calmer but more defiant. Impulsivity and academic struggles may turn into substance use problems and school truancy. Understanding how these symptoms evolve from childhood to adolescence is imperative to ensure that all children who have evidence of ADHD can receive the treatment and the accommodations they need through their teen years.

A recent study led by Margaret H. Sibley of the Center for Children and Families at Florida International University in Miami focused on identifying the evolution of ADHD symptoms from childhood to adolescence. Using parent and teacher reports, as well as self-reports from adolescents, Sibley evaluated the symptoms of 283 students with and without ADHD. She found that many of the students who had significant academic, social, and behavioral challenges did not meet the qualification for a clinical diagnosis of ADHD. Although the majority of the students who had been diagnosed in childhood did not have high levels of symptom severity in adolescence, impulsivity and inattention still appeared to be a significant problem for most, even if they were below the clinical threshold. This finding means that these children, who are still in need of academic, medical, and emotional treatment, may not get the services they require because they do not meet the guidelines for a medical diagnosis of ADHD. In all, Sibley found that contrary to the popular belief that the majority of children outgrow ADHD as they mature, nearly 70% of the teens who had been diagnosed in childhood with ADHD still exhibited relatively high levels of impairment. Sibley believes that lowering the symptom threshold and assessing parental reports more closely could help these children. She added, “It is our hope that these recommendations will lead to improved identification of adolescents with ADHD, increasing access to treatment and educational services for these youths.”

Sibley, M. H., Pelham Jr., W. E., Gnagy, E. M., Waschbusch, D. A., Kuriyan, A. B., Babinski, D. E., et al. (2012). Diagnosing ADHD in adolescence. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 80.1, 139-150.

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  • Jess Mac April 11th, 2012 at 4:10 AM #1

    I can see how these same behaviors could easily transition into other behaviors as the child gets older. What we see as poor attention to school and hyperactivity in childhood could then develop into delinquent behaviors as the child gets a little older. This becomes their way of coping with all of the craziness that they could be feeling. Instead of getting in trouble in the classroom they decide to blow off school altogether, or as a way to block it all out they will turn to drugs or alcohol. That is a very compelling argument for sure.

  • Taylor April 11th, 2012 at 1:14 PM #2

    So if I’ve got this right, you are saying that the problems don’t necessarily go away; they just morph into some other kinds of destructive behavior, but not behavior that is necessarily going to be viewed as something that can be helped with traditional school based resources. I would buy into that.

  • Quincy April 11th, 2012 at 3:44 PM #3


  • Ted April 12th, 2012 at 3:34 PM #4

    would be nice if they did, this would at least give parents of these children hope that there is some light at the end of the tunnel. many have a hard time seeing that when they are facing so many other daily battles

  • Robb April 14th, 2012 at 12:37 AM #5

    The signs may change over the years as the child develops and grows.The change in signs does not mean ADHD has gone away,it is just changing a bit as the child changes.Keeping the same parameters as indicator for both you get years and teen years is just not accurate enough.

  • adultwithadd April 16th, 2012 at 9:49 AM #6

    Great piece. I hope a lot of folks read this.

    This article is the exact reason we created adultswithadd.net — for the majority of people who struggle with ADHD as children, it continued to affect them as adults. Not only that, but plenty of adults who go undiagnosed as children end up having to start from scratch when they’re already in the workforce. That’s tough to do.

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