Can Adults Develop ADHD?

Apr 20, 2023
Can Adults Develop ADHD?
ADHD is a common condition that can make it difficult to concentrate, stay organized, sit still, and control impulses. Here’s why this childhood neurodevelopmental disorder also affects a considerable number of adults.

If you find it difficult to pay attention, stay organized, manage your time, or remember simple daily tasks, you may wonder if you’re experiencing the effects of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a common neurodevelopmental condition that typically affects children.

The short answer is this: While you can be diagnosed with ADHD in adulthood, the condition developed when you were much younger — it simply went undetected until it began causing the kind of problems that led you to seek expert evaluation and care later in life. 

As mental health experts who specialize in ADHD evaluation and treatment in patients of all ages, our seasoned team at P.S. Psychiatry in Doylestown, Pennsylvania knows just how life-changing it can be for adults with undiagnosed ADHD to finally learn why they tend to be distracted, scattered, overwhelmed, or impulsive more often than not. 

Read on as board-certified psychiatrist and neurologist Dr. Mitchell Kho and board-certified psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner Eileen Peirce discuss basic facts about ADHD onset, and explain what developing ADHD-like symptoms in adulthood may mean. 

ADHD: A childhood disorder

All kids have trouble sitting still, staying focused, and controlling their impulses sometimes. Inattentive and impulsive behaviors are a normal part of human development, starting in early childhood and extending through late adolescence.

But when inattentive and/or hyperactive tendencies are the norm rather than the exception, these behaviors may be due to ADHD, a common neurodevelopmental condition that is, by definition, a childhood disorder

Indeed, ADHD is more common in young people: Nearly 10% of children in the United States — or about 6 million preschoolers, grade-schoolers, and teenagers — have been diagnosed with the disorder. But epidemiological data indicates that the problem also affects over 4% of American adults (about 5% of men and 3% of women).  

From ADHD onset to diagnosis 

So, what gives? How can adults have a neurodevelopmental condition that’s defined as a childhood disorder? The answer lies in the age of onset versus the age of diagnosis

Inattention, disorganization, restlessness, and other tell-tale ADHD signs typically appear before the age of 12, but they’re not always diagnosed promptly. The median age of ADHD symptom onset is six years old

For children who’ve been diagnosed with ADHD, the median age of diagnosis is:

  • Seven years old for mild ADHD
  • Six years old for moderate ADHD
  • Four years old for severe ADHD

Still, sometimes ADHD symptoms manage to go undetected until adolescence, when greater autonomy from parents and increased social and academic expectations combine to widen the gap between kids who are affected by the disorder and their peers who are not. 

And in some cases, ADHD goes undiagnosed until adulthood, when relationship difficulties and challenges at work or at home cause the affected person to seek input from an expert. 

ADHD tends to evolve over time

ADHD symptoms are divided into two categories: Behaviors that are inattentive, and those that are impulsive or hyperactive. When ADHD first appears during childhood, it may primarily cause inattentive or hyperactive symptoms — or more typically, it may cause a combination of both. 

Whatever the nature of its symptoms, one aspect of ADHD is consistent among individuals: ADHD tends to evolve with age and improved coping mechanisms, causing different sets of symptoms that are experienced to varying degrees as time goes on. 

Often, hyperactive symptoms recede as kids advance through elementary school, while inattentive symptoms intensify through adolescence and beyond, right when schoolwork becomes more difficult, and teens have less supervision. This trend often continues into adulthood, especially when ADHD goes undiagnosed and unmanaged.  

Adult ADHD signs and symptoms

There are two common misconceptions surrounding ADHD in adulthood. The first is that most kids with ADHD will essentially “outgrow” the problem by the time they reach adulthood; the second is that people who never struggled with ADHD during childhood can develop it for the first time as adults. 

In reality, about one-third of children diagnosed with ADHD still have symptoms in adulthood, and people who are diagnosed with ADHD for the first time in adulthood were simply unaware that they had the disorder in their youth. In fact, a thorough adult ADHD evaluation includes a complete review of current and past symptoms.

Common signs and symptoms of ADHD in adults include:

  • Trouble staying focused on the task at hand
  • Inattention to details; makes careless mistakes
  • Difficulty staying organized; missed deadlines
  • Frequent lack of follow-through on required tasks
  • Forgetting routine chores; losing necessary items 
  • Appearing not to listen in direct conversation  

If these symptoms sound all too familiar, a comprehensive ADHD evaluation with our expert team at P.S. Psychiatry may be your next best step. If you do have ADHD, we can help you gain the upper hand over your symptoms and improve your life. 

To learn more or schedule an evaluation, call 267-884-1824 today, or click online to book your appointment any time.