Do ADHD Kids Have “Dimmer Prospects” in Life?

Posted October 24, 2012 by

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between three and seven percent of school-aged children in the U.S. have ADHD. Child prescriptions for ADHD have climbed 50 percent in the last ten years. Many parents wonder, “If my child has this diagnosis today, will it affect him negatively as an adult?” While a new study points to the difficulties kids with ADHD might face in life, it doesn’t acknowledge the good news about treatment. I believe that the way we’re learning to manage our ADHD kids’ behavior — and teach them how to deal with their “brain difference” — will help them  be more successful in the future.

ADHD Diagnosis in Kids Infographic

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The study, conducted by Professor Rachel Klein of NYU Langone Medical Center, followed the lives of 135 middle class white males who were designated as “hyperactive”  by their school teachers in the 1970s, and who, according to Klein and her colleagues, would have been diagnosed with ADHD today. (Worth noting: none of the boys displayed aggressive or antisocial behaviors.) The study found that, in comparison to their non-ADHD peers, the boys (now middle aged men) on average have less education and lower incomes as adults and higher rates of divorce and substance abuse. About a third of the group had spent time in jail — three times the number of their peers who did not have ADHD.

While ADHD itself may not be the cause of their problems, Klein said it’s likely a “slippery slope.” The impulsivity shown by many ADHD teens has been linked to drug use and other risky behaviors, for example.

So is the diagnosis of ADHD a prescription for failure?

Not according to Dr. Bob Myers, an ADHD expert who has worked with kids with the disorder for nearly 30 years, and who is also the father of an ADHD son. He believes that ADHD is a “brain difference” — a different way of learning and experiencing the world. “If we think of it as a brain difference, we could then say that a child with ADHD has some significant differences in his cognitive ability, emotional sensitivity and activity level when compared to other children.  His skill set is different from 95% of the children in his class. Unfortunately, the environment in which he spends most of his time is geared toward the other 95%.  However, we then could look at helping him to adapt successfully to this environment, using his own set of strengths rather than helping him to cope with this environment due to his weaknesses.”

Not better or worse — just different. While kids whose ADHD is not addressed have a harder time getting through school and feeling successful, those who are given the help they need achieve the same level of success — if not at times even greater success — than their peers.

“It’s true that ADHD left untreated leads to a higher likelihood of depression and substance abuse later in life,” says Myers. “But ADHD appropriately treated leads to a higher likelihood of success in life because it can help a child properly channel his increased sensitivity, creativity and high energy.”

Dr. Myers encourages parents not to be afraid of the diagnosis. “I believe we need to accept it as the first step in turning a difficult situation around to a positive direction. Helping your child with ADHD succeed requires a team approach that often needs to continue over many years.  That team includes your family, health professionals, teachers — and, of course, your child.”
I also can’t help but be reminded of all the high profile people who have ADHD and who are enormously successful, people like the late Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, David Neelemen, founder of Jetblue (who considers his ADHD to be an “asset”), Justin Timberlake, Will Smith, Karina Smirnoff, and on and on. I think it’s time we stop letting ADHD define our kids, and instead start thinking of how we can work with them to bring out the positive aspects of  that “brain difference” to help them achieve success in life.


Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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  1. May L Report

    It is good to read about the expectations for ADHD kids, we are raising a grandchild with it, and have geared our lifestyle to it. Unfortunately, his uncle-our son- was undiagnosed in youth and we struggled w/o any help but prayer. He suffered,and still does, even with a 4 yr college degree, but we now have the experience and knowledge to help now with our grandchild.
    It is helpful to have the RX to help the child focus, and he has A-B grades and is planning to go to college.

  2. Moxie Report

    Coming from 41 years experience with my son, I love the term ‘brain difference’. I was the person who diagnosed my son when he was 9 years old as little was recognised about ADHD here in Australia at that time. His schooling record is woeful having been thrown out of 5 primary schools and then going to a ‘special school’ for 2 years. His teachers were brutal and upon reflection, should have been referred for physical abuse.
    He was certainly not ready for any work until his early 30’s. He spent quite a few years on government welfare after spending 5 weeks in prison at the age of 18.
    Having 3 daughters has made a major difference in his life along with the love of his partner. He has a lifelong interest in cars and basically anything with wheels and that has lead him into his career of long distance truck driving. “No one looking over my shoulder and telling me what to do” is how he puts it. He earns really good money and fully supports his family. At 27 he did go back to adult higher school and gain his certificate in Math and English. It has been a difficult time for both his father and myself who divorced many years ago but we have supported him and been there and encouraged him every step of the way. We love him so much and understand his challenges and he has risen above those.

    • Elisabeth Wilkins Report

      Moxie, Thank you for your comments. It’s so true that we know our own kids better than anyone else — so important to listen to that inner voice that tells us how to best parent them, regardless of what other people might say. I’m so sorry to hear what you and your son have been through as a result of people not understanding his ADHD, but am happy to hear he’s doing well now, and that you and your ex have encouraged him all the way. Take care, and thanks again for your comments.

  3. Emmie Report

    Early intervention is the key! It is so hard for us, as parents, to accept that anything is wrong with our child, but turning it around to say my child has a learning difference is a great way to accept, move on and address. I have three ADHD children in my home, ages 12, 15 and 21. Obviously they are all in various stages of development. My oldest is smart and was accepted into college, but knew he would not be able to stay focused on the work load and decided not to go, which is ok. I do believe and have seen in my home, that kids with ADHD sometimes are a bit more immature emotionally than their peers. My husband and I have resigned ourselves to accepting a 5 year delay. I guess they will all live with us until at least 26? The youngest is 12… Oh, my! My 21 year old got his driver’s license this week. It’s not that he took it before and failed, he was just never quite ready or motivated. When he was ready, he took the class, took an extra 2 years after that to practice when he wanted and finally was ready and motivated enough to do it and passed on the first try! Dealing with a younger child with ADHD can be so frustrating and you think they will never make it to adulthood. But, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Most do not “grow out of it” but they figure out how to adapt. As an exapmle, they will take a construction job instead of a desk job to satisfy the need to move. On the other hand, without support and intervention early, that chance to end up on drugs is always out there. My brother is a perfect example. Textbook case of ADHD, always in trouble, dropped out of school, drugs, homeless. Who knows where he’s be today if there was more early intervention and understanding of ADHD when we were kids?



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