Dr Balu Pitchiah MBBS, MRCPsych, CCST,MBA (OXON)

How ADHD Can Change with Age?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD is usually associated with children, but it can affect people at any age. More than 1.6 million adults in the UK are currently taking medication for ADHD, which is double the number taking them ten years ago. Although many adults do still need this medication, the way that ADHD affects people can vary with age and many can stop taking their medication as they grow older.


Young Children

ADHD isn’t usually diagnosed in infants or young children. It can be very difficult to tell the difference between normal tantrums or sleep problems and the early signs of ADHD. However, children who go on to be diagnosed with the condition may have shown the following symptoms when they were younger:

  • Difficulty calming down
  • Irritability
  • Sleep problems and hyper arousal

All of these can be normal for toddlers and preschoolers, but children who are later diagnosed with ADHD may have been particularly difficult.

School Age Children

ADHD is most often diagnosed before the age of 10 and it often happens thanks to a well trained teacher. Although all children can show some of these behaviours at times, they can be more severe and persistent in children with ADHD:

  • Inattentiveness, for example not seeming to listen to teachers or parents
  • Difficultly focusing or completing tasks such as schoolwork
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsive behaviour
  • Irritability and frequent arguments or fights
  • Defiant behaviour
  • Difficult relationships with siblings or classmates

Teenagers and Young Adults

As children grow older, their experiences of living with ADHD can change. During the teenage years:

  • Risk taking behaviours are more common in adolescence
  • Teenagers can take more control of their treatment, but this can cause problems as well as benefits, for example if they resist medication or challenge the treatment rather than taking responsibility for it
  • Increased demands at school can make issues with concentration more apparent
  • Teens with ADHD can be at higher risk of other issues such as anxiety and depression

Adult ADHD

Although many people grow out of their ADHD, other will continue to experience symptoms or will only be diagnosed with ADHD as adults:

  • The symptoms often improve with age and many people will be able to stop taking medication
  • Symptoms of adult ADHD often include impulsivity and poor concentration
  • Hyperactivity is less common in adulthood