Can ADHD Occur Later in Life?

 ADHD Weekly 2016-06-23

Can an adult be diagnosed with ADHD even though she didn’t have symptoms of the disorder in childhood or adolescence? There is growing evidence that ADHD is emerging for the first time in adulthood for a number of people.

It was only recently that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders acknowledged, in the fifth edition, that ADHD sometimes develops after childhood. Until then, it was considered crucial that symptoms of the disorder were present for a person before they entered adolescence in order for a diagnosis of ADHD.

Now researchers are exploring the possibility that ADHD can develop later in life even without diagnosable symptoms before adolescence. Researchers are asking if this is one of the reasons more women are being diagnosed with ADHD, even though boys affected by ADHD still outnumber girls among children.

“Adult ADHD is more complex than a straightforward continuation of the childhood disorder,” according to Adults, Especially Women, May Develop ADHD Later In Life — Or Else Were Missed As Kids published in JAMA Psychiatry last month by researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London.

Research is being conducted into three possible reasons for a late diagnosis of ADHD without known symptoms in childhood:

  • Symptoms were masked in childhood due to protective influences (parental organization or guidance, a high IQ, or good grades)
  • Misdiagnosis with another disorder, such as anxiety or depression
  • An entirely adult form of ADHD that has not been medically identified at this time

The second possibility, a misdiagnosis, is being considered by researchers in Brazil and reflects the experience of many women who were diagnosed with another disorder before receiving an accurate ADHD diagnosis. Researchers in the United States are looking at the supports parents and schools create around a student and how when those supports are removed in young adulthood, symptoms become apparent for the first time.

Other studies are examining how a late emergence of symptoms could have implications for genetic studies of ADHD. But for many people diagnosed with ADHD in adulthood, the new research confirmed their experiences with ADHD and the need to find effective treatment for their individual’s situations.

Regardless of when ADHD is identified, it is important to work with your health care provider to establish a treatment plan that best meets your needs.

See ADHD in Adults for more information.