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Why Do We Focus So Much on ADHD in Children?


Here’s an informal experiment I did that you can try for yourself. I searched Google for recent news articles with the keyword “ADHD” to see how many specifically were about children with ADHD versus how many were about adults or ADHDers in general.

Of the ten articles on the first page of news results I got, seven were specifically about children with ADHD.

That’s a pretty high proportion – it’s not really in line with most other mental health conditions, as far as I’m aware. When I searched for “anxiety,” for example, only two of the ten articles that came up were about anxiety in children.

Child and AdultTo adults with ADHD, the results of my not-very-scientific experiment won’t be a great surprise. We know that resources, literature, and even scientific research related to ADHD tends to be heavily targeted toward children with ADHD.

In fact, when I link to research in these blog posts, it’s more than once that I’ve had to link to studies that were done on children with ADHD and basically say: “We know this is true for children with ADHD, but we can’t say for sure whether it’s true for adults because the research simply hasn’t been done.”

So the question I want to ask is: why do we seem to talk about ADHD in childhood so much more than ADHD in adulthood? Especially when we know that many children with ADHD will go on to become adults with ADHD?

One possible answer is that ADHD symptoms often show up early, so there are a lot of parents looking for answers. Then there’s the fact that adult ADHD has been recognized as a problem only more recently, in historical terms. But I don’t think either of these by itself is an adequate explanation.

When thinking about ADHD in childhood vs. adulthood, something that seems worth keeping in mind is that children have very little ability to structure their life in the way that works best for them. Specifically, children basically spend all their time in school, which is a uniquely unforgiving environment for ADHDers.

I often make the point that one of the best ways to cope with ADHD is to change your environment. Find a job that fits with how your brain works. Organize your life in a way that accommodates your symptoms. That’s not an option for children, though. In fact, children’s options for coping with ADHD are limited, which potentially makes their symptoms more pronounced.

In some ways, that’s more a commentary on our education system than anything else. What I’m getting at here is that ADHD in childhood might seem especially problematic because our schools are so bad at accommodating people who learn in different ways.

But that’s still not a complete explanation, in my view. Rather, I think a part of this is just the fact that we can be slow to adjust our attitudes to scientific findings. Even though research tells us that ADHD in adulthood is an issue that needs our attention (no pun intended), that awareness has been slow to trickle out. Veeerrry slow.

Happily, I think we are gradually moving in the right direction. Three out of ten recent news articles acknowledging adult ADHD is better than zero out of ten. And as a childless millennial who often writes about ADHD without mentioning kids at all, hopefully I am doing my part to shift the needle in the direction of taking seriously ADHD in adults!

Image: Flickr/Kozo Tada

Why Do We Focus So Much on ADHD in Children?


Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on psychology, ADHD and education. In addition to ADHD Millennial, he writes about psychology at Psych Central's AllPsych blog and about ADHD at ADaptHD.com. He can be found on Twitter at @ADaptHD_blog


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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2020). Why Do We Focus So Much on ADHD in Children?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2020, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/adhd-millennial/2020/02/why-do-we-focus-so-much-on-adhd-in-children/

 

Last updated: 14 Feb 2020
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