Do Kids Grow Out of ADHD?

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on June 14, 2024
5 min read

If your child has trouble staying focused or acts impulsively due to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you might hope that it’s something they’ll grow out of. After all, some symptoms of ADHD, such as daydreaming, forgetfulness, or fidgeting, can be pretty normal for kids. But while it can happen sometimes, most kids with ADHD don’t just outgrow it.

People can find out they have ADHD at any age, but it’s most often diagnosed in kids around age 6. Experts – and many parents – used to think that ADHD lasts through the teenage years and into adulthood only about half the time. But more recent studies suggest that ADHD and its symptoms usually continue even after kids grow up. Sometimes, ADHD symptoms might go away and come back or change over time.

Earlier studies suggested that ADHD symptoms often did go away. For example, one 2016 study looked at 579 kids diagnosed with ADHD between ages 7 and 10. Close to half of them were evaluated again as adults, at an average age of about 25. The study was based on reports from parents and from the adults who’d had ADHD.

The study found that 60% of kids with ADHD still had symptoms as adults. More than 40% of them fully met the criteria for ADHD based on their symptoms and the degree to which those symptoms interfered with their life.

Studies such as this one led to the general view that ADHD continues into adulthood about half the time. But the precise numbers have varied from one study to the next. For instance, another study from 2013 looked at more than 5,700 adults who’d been diagnosed with ADHD as children. It found that ADHD persisted in about 30% of them.

It was clear from these earlier studies that many kids with ADHD don’t outgrow it when they become adults. But they still suggested that perhaps a lot of kids do “outgrow” ADHD. This view was challenged by a more recent study that looked at people with ADHD several times instead of only once or twice. The researchers noted that most efforts to look at what happens in ADHD over time didn’t account for whether people still had any symptoms of ADHD. They also didn’t consider whether adults who’d had ADHD as kids were still taking medicine for it.

To get more information in this new study, researchers enrolled more than 550 kids with ADHD. They followed up with them eight times, starting from 2 years after the first interview up to 16 years, when the subjects were around age 25. They looked for ADHD and ADHD symptoms each time by asking parents, teachers, and the people with ADHD themselves. They also considered whether they were being treated for ADHD.

What they found suggests that ADHD isn’t something that you just have or don’t have. And the path it can take over time also can vary. Consistent with earlier studies, about 30% of those in the study did seem to fully recover from ADHD and its symptoms at some point. But most who seemingly recovered – 60% – had a recurrence. So their ADHD seemed to go away for a time and then come back. The study also found that most adults who didn’t fully meet the criteria for ADHD still had symptoms sometimes or still were taking ADHD medicine.

Only about 9% of the kids got over or seemed to permanently “outgrow” their ADHD. The condition appeared to remain stable in less than 11% of people in the study. Most with ADHD showed changes over time. Based on reports by those in the study, ADHD symptoms most often seemed to go up and down. They could get better for a while and then worse again.

This was a small study, so we need more research to draw firm conclusions. But these findings show that ADHD and its symptoms can change for reasons that aren’t clear.

It’s not entirely understood what happens in the brain of kids with ADHD or how it changes over time. Lots of studies have been done to look at the brain. But one reason it’s hard to say is that different studies have seen different things. There could be many reasons for those differences, including variations among people with ADHD and how those studies were done.

Another recent small study looked at brain images of 31 young adults with ADHD compared to adults without ADHD. It also considered how many symptoms the adults had when they were kids. The study did see some widespread changes, including changes in density and shape in different parts of the brain. Those changes were most strongly linked to symptoms of ADHD people had when they were kids. It suggested to the researchers that changes in the brains of kids with ADHD symptoms are still there when those kids get older.

So this adds to the idea that childhood ADHD doesn’t go away with age. But there are still lots of questions. More study is needed to really understand what happens in the brain in ADHD and how it changes over time. It also may depend on what type of ADHD a person has.

Even if your child doesn’t outgrow ADHD, it may look different as they get older. ADHD symptoms in kids often are easier to spot. Adults who’ve had ADHD for years might have found ways to manage or hide their symptoms.

Kids with ADHD might squirm, fidget, or run around a lot. They may have trouble staying on task at school or at home. They might also be impulsive, cut into lines, or talk out of turn. As adults, they may often continue to struggle with attention while some of the other symptoms go away or are turned inward. For example, instead of being hyperactive, they may feel restless or easily bored.

Many different things can affect how ADHD symptoms might change over time. Stress can play a role. So can the amount of support a person receives and how well they can find ways to manage these symptoms.

It’s also possible that some kids who seem to outgrow ADHD may not have had it to begin with. Some experts think this is one reason that some kids appear to outgrow it. The number of kids who are diagnosed with ADHD has gone up in recent years. It’s not clear if that’s because the condition is more common or just that more kids are being diagnosed. The way doctors diagnose ADHD also has changed over time, which may explain some of the differences.

If your child lives with ADHD now, you can expect symptoms to get better with treatment and as you learn ways to help them manage it. As they grow up, it’s likely there will be times when the symptoms won’t bother them as much or may even go away. But the latest evidence suggests that most likely – nine times out of 10 – they won’t completely outgrow it.