What happens to hyperactive children and adolescents? What kind of functioning can we expect them to have as they grow up? Do hyperactive kids "grow out" of their ADHD?
This topic was examined again at great length in the February 2006 issue of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Follow-up studies suggest that 35-to-80 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD in childhood persist with these symptoms into adolescence. By adulthood, 49-to-66 percent of childhood cases of ADHD continues to display symptoms of the disorder. This particular study examined the adaptive functioning in major life activities of the young adult, such as educational attainment, social functioning, financial management and sexual functioning.
The study confirmed several other findings that indicate hyperactive children continue to experience significant educational impairment by young adulthood. More hyperactive young adults than non-ADHD young adults had been retained in school, been suspended from school or had received special education al services. Additionally, the hyperactive group completed fewer years of education and had a lower GPA and class ranking than did their non-ADHD counterparts. Thirty-two percent of them failed to complete high school. This failure had a significant impact on the ADHD group's lifetime earnings, access to higher education, and range of employment opportunities. One particularly thought-provoking point was the implication that retaining a child in school affected his ability to stay motivated in school. They had ongoing peer issues, reduced academic performance, and a potential worsening in anxiety, inattentive, and disruptive behaviors.
Regarding work history, it appears from the study that the hyperactive group held twice as many full time jobs on the average than did those in the community control. The hyperactive group had also been fired more than twice as often from their jobs. The ADHD employees were rated by themselves and by their supervisors as having ADHD symptoms at work, with poorer overall work performance.
Concerning financial issues in adulthood, the study showed that fewer members of the ADHD group had a credit card. The hyperactive group owed twice as much money as did the control group. They also reported more difficulty saving to pay their bills than did the control group.
On the topic of social impairment as a result of ADHD, the hyperactive group had more relocations and fewer friends than the control group. This indicated that the severity of ADHD symptoms was a significant predictor of social maladjustment. The hyperactive group reported more dating partners than did the control group. This same group was sexually active earlier than the control group and had twice as many sexual partners by the time of follow-up than did the non-ADHD group. Approximately 68 percent of the ADHD females had become parents by the time of follow- up, as compared to 16 percent of non-ADHD females. It appeared that significant conduct problems in the adolescents also contributed to earlier parenthood. Four times as many members of the ADHD group contracted a sexually transmitted disease by the time of follow-up than did the non-ADHD group.
Although there are limitations to this study, the implications demonstrate that ADHD children continue to have significant problems. The problems lie in the areas of financial attainment, educational achievement, and social adjustment that reach well into adulthood as compared to their non-ADHD peers.
As a parent, speak with your child's pediatrician to make sure that your ADHD adolescent continues to grow and mature. He will need continued assistance with vocational planning, educational planning as well as counseling on sexual activity and other health-related behaviors. He will also need assistance with money management to ensure that the transition into adulthood is a successful one.