Psychological Services

ADD Across the Life Span: Birth to Aging

It is known and accepted that ADD is a disorder that does not go away with maturation. Recent statistics indicate that 65 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD in childhood still have symptoms of the disorder interfering with their life as an adult. Individuals diagnosed in adulthood however were not always diagnosed as children. In fact only 25 percent of a recent adult sample had been diagnosed with attention problems as a child or adolescent. So, we are faced with two issues. One, that ADD can become problematic in adulthood as opposed to childhood and two, that those diagnosed with ADD do not grow out of their disorder as was once believed.

In United Psychological Services twenty plus years of experience evaluating and treating those affected by ADD, we have found that different problems related to symptoms of ADD change with the life tasks associated with a given developmental age.

For example, what are the life tasks of the elementary school child in kindergarten? Develop pre-reading skills, to participate in circle time and to sit still. What about first and second grade? The ability to focus on academics through an entire day of school and to learn how to read is required for success. In third and fourth grade children learn independent work skills and to spell and write fluently. Junior high requires skills associated with writing research papers and high school involves completing examinations and studying more complex material.

So when do ADD symptoms become more problematic? Well, if you see the “Real ADD” as a problem of language and emotions then you will likely see symptoms as reading becomes a more critical part of daily school life. In the first and second grade, children struggle with learning to read. They receive intervention in the school that may or may not work because it may be related to an undiagnosed ADD problem. It is in the first, second and particularly the third grade that a dislike of school and reading intensifies enough for homework assignments and in class work to be procrastinated and avoided. Anxiety in school increases and the child begins to move in their seat. Symptoms in first through third grade: Avoidance of work, missing homework, restless in class and attention problems. Symptoms in fourth through sixth grade: Increased avoidance, increased anxiety and depression, verbalized dislike of school, enhanced social and sports activities to provide an escape. Symptoms in junior high school: Math becomes more confusing; research papers take forever and usually are started the night before they are due. Reading difficulties lead to skimming the textbook for answers (homework taking incredibly long) and more avoidance of anything related to school. High school symptoms see the creation of a personality to match the avoidance of school; more social or “hanging around” the peers identified with “problems”. College becomes an impossible dream. Fifteen/Twenty years ago diagnosed ADD individuals bloomed in college, found their forte and emerged with positive accolades for the first time in their life. Now, they may have struggled for the first year of college before finding their niche, but they found it and thrived. Today, that first year is no longer allowed. Those with failing grades are suspended from school. ADD individuals no longer have the time and luxury of finding their way; they have to know the way. They cannot afford to learn study skills in college; they need to have them ingrained before college to simply get accepted at a university.

What are the life skills of adulthood? Life skills include maintaining a job and a home life; to be a responsible spouse and parent. What does ADD look like in adulthood? Uncompleted tasks, broken promises, paperwork that is put beyond the deadline, marital decline and divorce, laid off or fired from the job. A good number of those individuals who are in trouble with the law have a history of ADD. Substance abuse is a well known problem that begins in junior high and high school. Use is part of the escape, avoidance and procrastination.

The primary factor of language and emotions leads to lifelong avoidance and procrastination due to dislike of reading, difficulty reading and/or reading comprehension problems. Spatial issues seen as the long term result of over-developing logical reasoning to work through attention symptoms leads to poor time management. The brighter the person, the greater the compensation, the worse and more skewed this pattern becomes.

ADD symptoms can appear worse due to additional disorders such as sleep apnea, cardiovascular disease and any type of injury to the brain. The aged population may suddenly present with worse attention problems as a result of developing of dementia. Generally ADD symptoms without treatment surface or become worse depending upon the life tasks demanded of the person.