ADHD and Development
Typical stages of development for children with ADHD
ADHD Behaviors are connected to your child’s age.
Every child’s ability to concentrate, pay attention and sit still changes with age. All parents know that what is normal for a 3-year-old child is not normal for a 6-year-old. This means that what is abnormal also changes with age. For example, if a 2nd grader acts like a kindergartner, we begin to suspect that something is wrong.
At each age, the average child becomes more able to pay attention, concentrate, and control behavior. Even though the child with ADHD may be behind expectations for each age, the child becomes more able to do these things as they grow. As a result, the signs of ADHD change as the child grows. What was considered normal at an earlier age may now be a problem. Scientists think that ADHD may be related to brain development. A recent study from the National Institute of Mental Health found evidence that the brains of children with ADHD developed more slowly than other children.
ADHD is not usually diagnosed until the child is in school. However, many behaviors in the preschool years cause parents to worry that their child may have ADHD. Studies show that up to 4 out of 10 of children up to 3 years old have problems with attention. After 6 months, most of these children have improved significantly. Therefore, they do not receive a diagnosis of ADHD. Temporary inattention in preschoolers is not a sign of ADHD.
Some children, however, show lasting problems with hyperactivity at the preschool stage. These children:
- Are “always on the go”
- Are constantly moving
- Tend to have more accidents
- Usually do not listen
- Often do not learn from experience
Parents find they need to watch such children all the time. If these problems are persistent and occur in more than one place, the child may have ADHD. If it is suspected that the child has ADHD, it is important to have the child evaluated by a health care professional to make the correct diagnosis.
The vast majority of children who have ADHD will be identified in elementary school. These children will:
- Be unable to sit through the school hour
- Lose track of belongings
- Be distracted and distracting to others
If they have no additional learning problems, some 1st and 2nd graders will be able to keep up in reading and math.
But by 3rd grade, ADHD students often have more trouble. Their inability to do homework and longer projects may cause poor grades. Low self-esteem can develop as a result of poor performance. Children who get professional care for their ADHD can be helped to keep up in school. Their parents can learn how to manage difficult behavior.
Junior High/Middle School
Many children are still outwardly hyperactive, inattentive and impulsive. Their school settings and expectations change drastically. The combination of ADHD, middle school and adolescence is often the greatest challenge these children will face in their academic careers. It is important to provide a stable and supportive environment, both at home and in school.
By high school, most teens with ADHD are less hyperactive. They will be able to sit still for longer periods. They are not as fidgety or restless. For this reason, it was once felt that children “outgrew” their ADHD. Now we know that kids continue to be impulsive and unable to concentrate on things they find boring. Grades may suffer and peer relations can be a struggle.
After middle school, students are expected to be more independent in their studies and social lives. For parents of the ADHD teen, this can become a frightening process. For example, learning to drive a car safely is a stress. Exposure to drugs and alcohol is another risk. A solid treatment relationship with a professional can be very important at this stage of ADHD.
Beyond High School
After high school, the person with ADHD needs to organize and manage responsibilities, finances, and relationships. Parents are often physically distant. This leaves young adults with ADHD to manage on his or her own for the first time. For instance, they will have to remember to refill and take their medicine without reminders or supervision.
Many colleges have supportive learning centers and support for the person with ADHD. Also, workplaces can make reasonable accommodations for ADHD. Individuals with ADHD must learn to watch for warning signs of difficulty on their own. They need to seek help from available resources when needed.