Many adults have lived with ADHD since childhood, but some are hearing the diagnosis for the first time.

Most people think of children when they think of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) — and rightly so. For many years, experts believed that one of the key factors in an ADHD diagnosis was the presence of symptoms prior to adolescence. But new research may suggest otherwise. 

Many adults have lived with ADHD since childhood, but some are hearing the diagnosis for the first time. Dr. Venkata Vallury and our experienced team at Redwood Family Health Center in McKinney and Farmers Branch, Texas, care for ADHD patients of all ages. Here, Dr. Vallury explains the adult version of this neurodevelopmental disorder and why it may appear later in life.

Understanding adult ADHD

Most cases of ADHD are diagnosed in early childhood before the onset of adolescence. In fact, one out of 10 children in the US has ADHD. While some of them grow out of it, about 75% of them continue to live with the condition into adulthood. Classic signs include:

  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of motivation
  • Impulsiveness 
  • Lack of time management skills
  • Forgetfulness
  • Disorganization
  • Hyperfocus or lack of focus

If you have any of these tendencies, it’s important to visit Redwood Family Health Center for a full evaluation so you can get proper treatment and support. If you’re concerned about receiving an ADHD diagnosis and the stigma it may carry, we understand. 

But times have changed, and so has our understanding of this common disorder. It no longer carries the negative connotation it once did, and you’re in good company: About 8 million adults in the US live happy successful lives despite their ADHD, including Olympic gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps, home improvement expert Ty Pennington, Maroon 5 lead singer Adam Levine, and singer/actor Justin Timberlake. 

When does adult ADHD begin?

We’ve just explained that most cases of adult ADHD simply carry over from childhood, but that doesn’t account for all adult diagnoses. 

Researchers identified a puzzling phenomenon that triggered new studies about adult ADHD: If boys diagnosed with ADHD far outweigh their female counterparts (from 2:1 to 10:1, depending on the study), why do the stats flip as the subjects age (with more adult women being diagnosed later in life)? And does this mean that adults can develop the condition even if they didn’t have it as a child?

While the answer is still under study, four probable reasons have emerged:

1. The condition was masked during childhood

It is plausible that adults diagnosed later in life may have had ADHD all along, but their symptoms were masked either intentionally by parents and/or teachers, or unintentionally, out of ignorance or misunderstanding. 

Often, those with ADHD get good grades, so the condition may be seen more as a personality quirk than a learning disorder. However, the correlation between high IQ and ADHD is a myth, and a dangerous one at that, since it may prevent proper treatment. 

2. The condition was misdiagnosed in childhood

Because ADHD symptoms mirror those of anxiety and depression, a misdiagnosis may account for the mystery behind adults who “develop” ADHD as grownups. 

Scientists studying this possibility are looking closely at patients who were diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety as children and then began showing signs of ADHD when their supports were removed in adulthood to determine if they were simply misdiagnosed in their youth.

3. Subthreshold ADHD continued to progress

Some adults who live with ADHD but never received a diagnosis as a child may have had the condition when they were younger, but their symptoms weren’t severe enough to meet the minimum criteria for a diagnosis. 

It’s possible that as school, work, and social responsibilities become more demanding, the ADHD symptoms kicked in and became more apparent. What seems to be a “new” condition may actually have begun years ago, especially if the child was intelligent and had plenty of support from parents and teachers.

4. An adult version of ADHD onset exists

If it’s possible for ADHD to develop in adulthood with no chance of misdiagnosis, missed diagnosis, or masking in childhood, then researchers have a brand new condition to explore. Those at the forefront of these studies are looking at genetics for clues about adult-onset ADHD. 

These studies are great news for all adults suffering from ADHD symptoms whose doctors won’t treat them for ADHD unless they had symptoms as a child. As physicians shift their approach to adult ADHD and consider the possibility of a late-onset version, more patients will receive an accurate diagnosis and the right treatment.

If you’re an adult experiencing ADHD symptoms — whether you’ve been dealing with them since you were a kid or they just started — we can help. Request an appointment online or call our friendly team today and get the expert evaluation that will bring you peace of mind and the tools to live with ADHD.