Parents and caregivers of children who have ADHD often ask the question, “Will my child outgrow their ADHD symptoms?”
The simple answer is …. maybe.
But maybe not.
Here are some explanations:
1. Kids with ADHD often mature more slowly than their peers because their brains don’t grow as quickly.
Read that carefully. I didn’t say their brains are capable of less, or that their brains are less intelligent, or that their brains develop more slowly. I said the GROW slower, which means they are generally slightly smaller in size than their peers’.
At any given point throughout adolescence, an ADHD brain would probably measure about 5% smaller than a “normal” brain of a child that same age. However, their brains won’t necessarily always be smaller.
Although ADHD brains have been proven to grow a little slower, a lot of them eventually catch up to their peers. It just might take them a little while longer to get there.
Keep in mind that not all ADHD brains grow to be the same size as everyone else’s. Some brains continue to be about 5% smaller for the rest of their lives, which can be one reason why their symptoms stick with them into adulthood.
Like I said, it doesn’t mean their brains are less capable. It generally just indicates a lower maturity level, or less ability to control their symptoms.
2. People who have ADHD have lower dopamine levels in their brains, which is a problem that can last into adulthood.
Lower dopamine levels means (in short) that it takes a lot more excitement for someone to become interested in something. And it takes a much bigger reward for them to feel stimulated and accomplished.
If those dopamine levels are never corrected, or never correct themselves naturally over time, then ADHD can last into adulthood.
This is why, many times, you hear of people being diagnosed with ADHD as adults. It’s a very real disorder that does not always “go away.”
3. The frontal cortex of an ADHD brain is usually thinner and slower to mature.
Just like with the first point… read that carefully. I didn’t say that it will not mature or grow. I said that it is slower to mature.
The frontal cortex of the brain controls judgment, decision-making, planning, attention span, and inhibition. When that cortex of the brain is slower to mature, those abilities take longer for that child to master.
It’s not impossible for them to master those skills, it just takes longer because their frontal cortex is developing more slowly.
However, don’t forget to read the part that says the frontal cortex is usually thinner, as well. This is one aspect of an ADHD brain that might not be outgrown. If the frontal cortex remains thin for the rest of a person’s life, then they could struggle with judgement, decision-making, planning, attention span, and inhibition for the rest of their lives.
4. Some people with ADHD might have problems with the hippocampus in their brain, which might not improve with adulthood.
New studies performed in Europe have shown that people who were diagnosed with ADHD as children still often have it into adulthood. Their tests also showed that the major issue these ADHD adult struggled with was memory.
Memory is controlled by the hippocampus, which also affects mood and emotion. This explains why our strongest memories are the ones with the strongest emotions (embarrassment, depression, exhilaration, guilt, etc.). It also explains why a decent percentage of people with ADHD have co-occurring mood disorders.
Unfortunately, the hippocampus isn’t necessarily known for improving or growing over time. In some studies, it has even been shown to shrink over time, but generally only in people who have mood or emotion disorders. This means that disorders affecting the hippocampus in childhood can last into adulthood.
Fortunately, this is a problem that usually only affects those who have mood disorders, rather than those who have ADHD. It’s a tiny, tiny piece of the ADHD puzzle, but not one most people need to worry about.
5. Every single child, and every single brain, is DIFFERENT.
You cannot predict whether or not your child will outgrow ADHD. You’ll only exhaust yourself by trying.
You are not a human x-ray machine, and you cannot see into your child’s brain. You can’t see how it’s developing, you don’t have a way to measure it against 100% of your child’s peers, and you don’t know what will happen over the next few years.
Brains are so unpredictable.
The honest answer is that your child might outgrow their ADHD symptoms, but they might not. Either way, you are free to love them, support them, and dream for them.
Because, as we all know, ADHD is only a fraction of who they are.
Do you have any personal stories of ADHD over the course of time?
Did your child outgrow it? Does your child still have it in adulthood?
Have you, personally, experienced the long-lasting affects of ADHD?
How has your ADHD evolved or stayed the same over time?
Hearing other people’s stories helps connect a wide array of people/families who are experiencing the same things you are. Don’t be afraid to share!