A Rare Look at How ADHD Progresses from Childhood to Adulthood

A study conducted in Finland is demonstrating how ADHD symptoms can persist from childhood into adulthood with negative consequences if left untreated. The study spanned four decades and involved 1,196 individuals who were followed from birth to age 40.  It is a rare look at the progression of ADHD symptoms.

One challenge the researchers faced was that when data collection began in the early 1970s, our understanding of mental health conditions was much less advanced, and ADHD as we know it today wasn’t even a diagnosis commonly being made. So the study team used behavior reports, interviews and assessments of attention problems, which they were able use to make reasonably accurate retrospective evaluations of ADHD. Using that data, they divided study participants into three groups:

  • Individuals who would have qualified for an ADHD diagnosis
  • Individuals who had sub-threshold ADHD symptoms not quite meeting the clinical cutoff
  • Individuals without ADHD symptoms

The researchers invited participants back for an ADHD assessment and series of surveys at age 40. Altogether, the study ended with 318 participants who still met the eligibility requirements and agreed to do the followup survey. Of those, 37 had had childhood ADHD and 64 had been children with sub-threshold symptoms.

The researchers had several key findings:

  • 20% of adults with childhood ADHD still exhibited high levels of ADHD symptoms at 40.
  • 25% of adults with childhood ADHD still had executive function challenges at 40.
  • Academic underachievement in childhood led to a permanently lower educational track.
  • Children with ADHD had more issues with drug use at age 40.
  • Individuals with sub-threshold ADHD symptoms did not appear to have negative outcomes in adulthood

While there can be problems with a retrospective diagnosis of ADHD, the patterns discovered by the researches are consistent with  what we know about ADHD today. The study findings underscore the importance of diagnosing and managing both childhood and adult ADHD.

3 Responses

  1. Jan Polissar
    | Reply

    I am a retired psychiatrist and was not diagnosed with ADD before age 75 when I attended a seminar at an American Psychiatric Association meeting. Suddenly my eyes opened: “My God! This is me !!!” Much more needs to be done to educate grade school teachers and young parents about this illness. It is my understanding that its prevalence is 5-10% in both males and females but females are less likely to be diagnosed. Although there are many self help and parent help books on the market I have not yet found anything that is of great help in better functioning. The techniques always interest me when I read them but then I usually forget to use the idea.
    As best I can tell, in my type of ADD (probably there are several types) there is a defect in short term, but not permanent memory. [It is strange.I never got past the 6th grade in spelling but still can spot misspellings in printed text. Thank goodness for Spell-Check.] Yet sometimes I can not remember the word/name I am looking for later, e.g. the name Fred Aster when I see a video of him dancing. After about 15 such misses I finally can remember his name. I thoroughly endorse “to do” lists but often forget to use them
    The new book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, about changing habits looks promising if I re-read it 3-5 times.

  2. Jan Polissar
    | Reply

    I am a retired psychiatrist and was not diagnosed with ADD before age 75 when I attended a seminar at an American Psychiatric Association meeting. Suddenly my eyes opened: “My God! This is me !!!” Much more needs to be done to educate grade school teachers and young parents about this illness. It is my understanding that its prevalence is 5-10% in both males and females but females are less likely to be diagnosed. Although there are many self help and parent help books on the market I have not yet found anything that is of great help in better functioning. The techniques always interest me when I read them but then I usually forget to use the idea.
    As best I can tell, in my type of ADD (probably there are several types) there is a defect in short term, but not permanent memory. [It is strange.I never got past the 6th grade in spelling but still can spot misspellings in printed text. Thank goodness for Spell-Check.] Yet sometimes I can not remember the word/name I am looking for later, e.g. the name Fred Aster when I see a video of him dancing. After about 15 such misses I finally can remember his name. I thoroughly endorse “to do” lists but often forget to use them
    The new book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, about changing habits looks promising if I re-read it 3-5 times.

  3. cristina graveran
    | Reply

    Hello. Can you explain what are some of the most common behaviors on children and you g adults with ADHD please? Thank you

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