ADHD Childhood vs. Adulthood

ADHD Child VS ADHD Adult: Understand the Difference

Ever wonder what the differences are when it comes to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in kids and adults? Are there differences, particularly when it comes to symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment? Here’s what to know about ADHD in childhood and adulthood.

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The Difference in ADHD Traits Between a Child and an Adult

There are lots of people, both children and grownups, who experience struggles but are not yet diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) - for plenty of reasons. For one, they may have a hard time finding suitable mental health professionals for their ADHD diagnosis👩‍⚕️. Some can pretty well manage their ADHD symptoms and don't see it fit to treat ADHD; they might even think they have cured and outgrown the ADHD traits they experienced while they were younger.

Previous versions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders only consider Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder for children and young adults but not for full-grown adults. This is because it was believed that ADHD symptoms would most likely dissipate with age🤔. However, according to the American Psychiatric Association, many children with undiagnosed and untreated ADHD tend to grow into adults with ADHD symptoms. This neurodevelopmental disorder can be characterized by impulsive symptoms, inattentive traits, and hyperactive tendencies.

So, let's have a little rundown of the symptoms and traits you had in childhood but didn't recognize as actual symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. These ADHD traits can manifest as something else when you were younger, and, while growing up, developed into adult ADHD traits. Likewise, you may have outgrown or coped with them.

Impulsive ADHD Symptoms

ADHD is a complex disorder that many people cannot understand well, including me 🙋‍♀️- someone who had recently been diagnosed. Even though I get to experience many ADHD symptoms, I didn't know I was already experiencing them as a child until I got an official ADHD diagnosis. I realized that whenever I see something that interests me, I would impulsively buy them without thinking about my monthly allowance. When I see a new hobby to try, my meager budget will not stop me from purchasing the materials I need to start with it.


Whenever I see my playmates with a new toy or something that interests me, my tendency as a child was to befriend them and ask to play with it - even if I had no idea how to use it. After a while, when my newfound friend is busy with other stuff, I would make the most of the time playing with that toy. I didn't realize that the impulsive symptom would still follow me into adulthood🥺. To this day, impulsive behaviors can still easily manifest when I am amazed by something new and fascinating. 

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, impulsivity can be one of the most common symptoms in ADHD assessment. There are lots of impulsive symptoms that we can experience aside from impulse buying. Impulsive behavioral symptoms also include interrupting people and butting into conversations, talking excessively, and having difficulty waiting in line

Inattention and Getting Bored Easily

Did you know that inattentive ADHD symptoms can also be experienced by young children? It will just be difficult to recognize them because kids are naturally curious, with the tendency to steer their attention from one thing to another. 

When in school, hyperactive boys may start getting bored 🥱 with lessons that don't spark interest and start roaming around, causing occasional trouble for everyone. Likewise, children with inattention symptoms may daydream, have creative things inside their ADHD brains, and forget about the topics at hand.

getting bored easily

Getting bored easily can make us produce different ideas, leading to experimentation. Combined with impulsivity, it means we might commit mistakes. We tend to be adventurous, which can be either a good or a bad thing. It can be good because we get to explore new things and widen our perspective👌, but it can also make us develop habits that are hard to break and can hurt us in the long run.

Many adults with ADHD may also experience difficulty in having sustained attention and get bored quickly, especially when they are forced to do something they aren't interested in. Common examples of such activities are seminars, conferences unrelated to their field, or projects they find tedious. When this happens, they may start doodling on their notebooks or papers📝, playing with their pens, or worse, sleeping during the said activity.

Being Forgetful and Missing Responsibilities

Who says being forgetful is only for older people? Come to think of it, my parents often scolded me because it was typical for me to forget my school stuff. This is usually brought on by procrastination, when I organize my things at the last minute. I'll often wake up late because I had trouble sleeping😪, immediately grab my things and go to school. And on the way, I'll usually remember that I need to bring something for a specific activity! 

getting easily distracted

This forgetfulness often continues into adulthood, when our working memory still prevents us from remembering essential details that we need to accomplish. Many adults with ADHD tend to forget a lot of things, especially when they are under a lot of stress. This can be things like an appointment with the doctor, meeting up with friends, or deadlines at work📅. When these things occur, adult life may seem like a big mess because of the number of things we need to remember.

This is where parent training and having good family support may help you with your struggles. We need to tell our family members that we are having difficulties with organization and need their help reminding us of our responsibilities. 

Parents can also support their children with ADHD by teaching them organization skills, such as using a planner or setting up an alarm on their phone ⏰ to remind them of their tasks.

Organization Skills and Expectation Setting

When it comes to childhood ADHD, we cannot immediately notice that kids are not organized. After all, there’s a good chance that their parents are doing everything for them. Furthermore, it’s usual for kids to be “messy,” so there’s little point branding them as “disorganized.” 

But we can see the signs when they reach school age and are expected to do things independently. This is where we usually know if they can follow instructions, remember the steps of a task, or complete a project on time.

difficulties with organization

A child with an ADHD diagnosis can sometimes struggle with organization and setting up routines. Someone with childhood ADHD may have difficulty setting up a structure for their school work, where distractions can mostly be anywhere. Home organization may also be a problem when they can't seem to put things in their designated places or always forget where they are. This is why parents need to support and teach their children with ADHD organization skills💪.

Many adults with ADHD, on the other hand, either get way too organized to mask their hyperactivity symptoms or just let their environment be a mess because they can't seem to manage anything. If you are in the former, it may mean that you are constantly trying to ensure everything is done perfectly to avoid making any mistakes and being judged by people😔. On the other hand, if you are in the latter group, it can mean that your environment is usually cluttered and unorganized because you can't seem to put anything in its proper place. This can be a problem at work when your desk is always messy, and you can't find anything when you need it.

Let’s also take into account that you may have another comorbid disorder, such as generalized anxiety disorder or depression. These, too, can affect your organization skills. 

Handling Emotions

According to the American Psychiatric Association, neurodevelopmental disorders, such as ADHD, can cause challenges with executive function. When our executive function is affected, we tend to have difficulties organizing, planning, and controlling our emotions. These skills are essential in helping us manage day-to-day tasks and cope with psychosocial treatments and interactions, which is why many people with ADHD may have difficulty dealing with their emotions.

forgetting things

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can influence a person's emotional regulation because it also affects our executive function. Some young adults may have a hard time controlling their emotions, and this might be due to the “weaker” prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain responsible for executive function. Some children with ADHD may experience more meltdowns, and this can be due to their difficulty understanding and dealing with their emotions.

Whichever ADHD presentations you might have or the age you are under, emotional dysregulation can be something that may hinder us from accomplishing things. Many children with ADHD tend to get easily upset when they don't get what they want, can feel too ecstatic over little things, or may have difficulty transitioning from one activity to another. Child psychology suggests that parents should understand and not dismiss the child's emotions. 🧒 Instead, they can help their children understand why they are feeling a certain way and how they can cope with these feelings.

Adults with ADHD can also have challenges when it comes to managing their emotions. They may find it hard to control their temper, be impulsive, make decisions out of their frustrations, or become easily overwhelmed by their feelings. This can pose problems in their lives, such as at work, in personal relationships, or in handling tasks and responsibilities.

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The Importance of Having the Right Support

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can cause struggles at any age. This neurodevelopmental disorder may be exhibited in hyperactive children and later “grow into” the inattentive ADHD subtype as adults. Because of the continuous changes in our environment, the way we learn and process information also rapidly changes. The demands of our daily lives are also constantly increasing, making it more difficult for us to cope with everything.

ADHD symptoms may present different difficulties that may make our lives more challenging. It is essential to have a support system to help us manage our symptoms and cope with our challenges😘. A sound support system can play a significant role in our treatment and recovery, which is why it is essential to find the right people to be part of our team.

Children with ADHD definitely need their parents and other family members to help them with their symptoms💏 . They may need help managing their schoolwork, taking the course on ADHD treatment strategies, and dealing with their emotions. Good family functioning and support is crucial in a child's development and progress in managing their ADHD. Likewise, their school environment can also be a factor that can help or hinder their progress in dealing with their ADHD symptoms. Parents need to find a school that is understanding and can provide the necessary support for their child.

When adults are diagnosed with ADHD, it can mean they need more adjustment and support to deal with their symptoms. They may need help managing their work, finances, and personal relationships. Adult ADHD struggles are more than just the three categories: Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive, Predominantly Inattentive, and Combined. It can also have co-occurring mental disorders, such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, Depression, or Bipolar Disorder, that can make things more complex and significantly affect your mental health. Because of this, it is essential to find the right professionals and people who can help you manage everything👩‍⚕.

Whether you are an adult with ADHD symptoms, part of the young adults with ADHD, or a parent of a child with ADHD, do not hesitate to ask for help. It is better to get the proper support than to try to deal with everything on your own. Remember that you are not alone in this journey; some people care and want to help you🥰.

ADHD Childhood vs Adulthood

ADHD Childhood vs Adulthood: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Is it true that childhood ADHD disappears with age?

It’s a common misconception. The answer is no. ADHD does not disappear simply because one grows older.

How is ADHD different in children and adults?

The differences lie mainly on the symptoms and how the neurodivergent condition is diagnosed and managed. For instance, the common ADHD symptoms, like inattention, being distracted, and getting disorganized, are typical of children. Hence, it might be hard to diagnose it on them. Compared to adults, management of childhood ADHD is highly dependent on the support of parents.‍

How does ADHD change from childhood to adulthood?

The answer to this depends on whether or not childhood ADHD has been officially diagnosed and treated. With diagnosis and treatment, the childhood ADHD symptoms may improve. Without them, the growing child may either experience more challenges, develop coping mechanisms, or simply mask their ADHD symptoms.‍

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