Life Stages of ADHD

Characteristics of ADHD Can Change Through Life’s Stages

ADHD symptoms and their severity are not set in stone, but rather, can shift throughout an individual’s life. Each phase of our development holds different experiences and demands. Oftentimes, it is when these demands increase that the symptoms of ADHD become more apparent. For most, it’s the demands of the classroom that raise the red flags. For others, it’s the demands of a workplace, a marriage, parenting, etc.

Challenges seen during the childhood years continue to have an impact throughout various aspects of life, such as following through on responsibilities, maintaining supportive relationships, and work performance. It is important to note that ADHD diagnosis in adults requires only 5 symptoms (instead of 6 for individuals under the age of 18) to be present in order to meet diagnostic criteria for ADHD diagnosis in adults.

The characteristics of ADHD change throughout development:

  • Hyperactive/impulsive symptoms are more visible in very young children and tend to “mellow out” over time. However, significant hyperactivity and impulsivity are still observed in some adults with ADHD, and particularly in those with substance abuse and antisocial behaviour.
  • Inattentive symptoms become more apparent in adolescence and continue into adulthood.

When left untreated, unsupported, and misunderstood, the impact of ADHD evolves over the child’s development. Ideally, children are diagnosed early in their school-aged years in order to increase their chances of success over their lifetime. Research into this area indicates that untreated ADHD can lead to lower outcomes in all areas of their life: academics and employment, antisocial behaviours, higher risks of injury when driving, addictive behaviours, and lower self-esteem.

Diagnosed with ADHD as a Child?

You may have heard at one time that most children outgrow ADHD when they are adults. However, it is now known that most children with ADHD develop into adults with ADHD. Although symptoms may present differently or change with age, they rarely go away all together.

The good news is that you likely have a better understanding of ADHD by now, you are recognizing how those symptoms are impacting you as an adult, and hopefully you have a game plan in place to manage those behaviours. Make sure you stick with it!

Young Man with ADHD?

If you are a young man with ADHD, it is very important to get a handle on those ADHD symptoms that can so easily derail you, particularly at this stage of your life.  As you might suspect by now, some teenage guys and young men are at a higher risk for all kinds of behaviours that negatively impact their world. When you add an impulsive ADHD brain to the equation, the risk factors increase – a lot!  And unfortunately, the ADHD brain takes longer to mature, two to three years longer than your peers without an ADHD brain.

Youth and young adults (young men especially) with ADHD are at a higher risk for:

  • Not completing high school or post-secondary school
  • Struggling to hold onto jobs
  • Driving issues, such as speeding and car accidents
  • Substance abuse and other addictions
  • Getting into trouble with the law
  • Being involved in an unplanned pregnancy

Fortunately, with treatment & strategies in place, you can minimize your risks for life to go sideways, and you can enjoy these years.

Girls with ADHD

During their school years girls have been diagnosed much less frequently than boys. This is changing with increased understanding of how ADHD presents in females. The extreme hyperactive and impulsive behaviours more often seen in boys are often disruptive and difficult for parents and teachers to manage, thus they are more likely to be referred for an ADHD assessment.

Girls are more likely to have inattentive symptoms, such as daydreaming, avoiding tasks by chatting with classmates, and not completing tasks and assignments on time, which can go unrecognized as symptoms of ADHD.

A girl who has hyperactive or combined symptoms may present more subtly, such as talking a lot and interrupting conversations more often, being impulsive in their behaviours, or being out of her seat to help classmates with their work. Girls are more likely to present with the ‘passive’, less noticeable version of ADHD.

Because of external structures of support provided during school years, through both school and home environments, some girls with ADHD may manage to get by without raising red flags. For others, they may ‘fall through the cracks’ and not receive any support at all, resulting in increased risk of school drop-outs, frequent job losses or changes in employment, early pregnancy, and difficulties with relationships.

Unfortunately for both is that it may mean they don’t receive the diagnosis or get the help they need.

Young Women with ADHD

When young women with ADHD are expected to be more independent, either at post-secondary or in work environments, if they do not have supports and strategies in place, then they are likely to feel overwhelmed. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD during adulthood than men; first because they were not diagnosed as children, and second because at this stage they might be struggling with the impact of ADHD symptoms, feel the effects of ADHD on their lives, and seek out support.

Young women with ADHD are at higher risk than peers for:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Struggling to keep up with academic demands at post-secondary
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Unplanned pregnancy

ADHD Women with Families

Most individuals with ADHD have weak Executive Functioning skills. This means they might have trouble with staying organized, time management, completing tasks, multi-tasking, and more.

Women, and mothers in particular, are often expected to be the planners and organizers of the family and to keep the household running smoothly. These expectations may be layered on top of work commitments. Juggling family/home and work can be challenging for everyone, and is particularly difficult for women with ADHD. Sometimes it is not until one of their own children is diagnosed with ADHD that mothers start to question if they may have ADHD as well. Fortunately, there is now a real shift in understanding ADHD in adulthood, so the diagnosis, treatment and supports are more readily available.

Juggling Life and Work

For many who are juggling life, work, and possibly families it can be difficult to keep all the balls in the air without dropping a few. This may be especially true for those with ADHD, where deficits in executive function skills impact many aspects of their world.

At times it can be hard to stay on top of:

  • Finances (“Woa, this visa bill is way bigger than I expected!))
  • Being on time for work or appointments (“Shoot, late again!”)
  • Meeting deadlines (Was that due today?”)
  • Car payments & insurance (Sorry officer, I didn’t realize my insurance had expired.”)
  • Home maintenance (“When are you going to fix that leaking faucet?”)
  •  ETC!

Staying on top of it all can be overwhelming for a person with ADHD. Of course, you want to develop strategies to minimize these challenges.

But don’t beat yourself up! Recognizing that ADHD is a brain-based condition resulting in delayed brain maturation instead of a lack of intelligence, laziness, lack of motivation, etc. can help you to accept that you are nor flawed and to be gentle with yourself.  It can also open so many doors to receiving supports and accommodations you need to deal with your ADHD symptoms and increase your success at home, at school, and at work!

Treatment and Strategies

We’ve laid out a picture of the ‘worst-case scenarios’ here – but this is only more likely to happen if you don’t have a diagnosis and treatment in place. The good news about ADHD is that with a diagnosis, treatment, strategies, and supports in place, ADHD can be managed. And remember to focus on your strengths! Go to  ADHD; Treatment & Strategies.

LEARN MORE – Life Stages of ADHD

Check in here regularly to see articles, videos, podcasts, and other resources related to the Stages of ADHD.

Recently Diagnosed with ADHD

Navigating the Life Stages of ADHD: Key Concerns and Strategies for Diagnosing and Treating Adults with ADHD. (podcast & video).By ADDitude.

“Navigating the Life Stages of ADHD: Key Concerns and Strategies for Diagnosing and Treating Adults with ADHD” [Video Replay & Podcast #323]


Teens & Young Adults with ADHD

CHADD Article: Teens and Young Adults.

Additude Article: Grow UP Already! Why it Takes So Long to Mature

Grow Up Already! Why It Takes So Long to Mature

Women with ADHD

Resource – ADHD Women’s Palooza: An extraordinary week of insight and answers exclusively for ADHD women, presented by more than 30 experts every year via audio and video presentations. You can get the replays of the presentations

ADHD in Girls and Women; How to Recognize the Signs & Symptoms. By

How ADHD Affects Women. Later Diagnosis, Risk-Taking, etc. By

Juggling Work and Life with ADHD

Juggling Work and Life with Adult ADHD; ADHD Support Talk Radio Podcast

Juggling Work and Life with Adult ADHD

ADHD Parent Palooza: In a yearly video conference, top experts share their wisdom on ADHD and Parenting. (Some parents of children with ADHD may also have ADHD, so learning strategies to tackle ADHD can help the whole family!)