Can you ‘grow out of’ a learning disability?

Posted 4 weeks ago by David McManus
Younger students with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder were just as likely to keep their diagnosis into adulthood as their older peers. [Source: Shutterstock]
Younger students with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder were just as likely to keep their diagnosis into adulthood as their older peers. [Source: Shutterstock]

As more adults present with ADHD than ever, the question remains as to whether age plays a factor in underdiagnosis.

Key points:

  • In the past, scientists have questioned the validity of ADHD in younger pupils, arguing they are only diagnosed because they are less mature than their peers
  • Approximately one in every 20 Australians has ADHD
  • The ADHD Foundation indicated a 400 percent rise in the number of adults seeking a diagnosis since 2020


Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is characterised by poor concentration, distraction, occasional hyperactivity and impulsive behaviour — symptoms that have led scientists to believe some younger students may have been misdiagnosed due to their maturity.

New research has uncovered that younger students who were diagnosed with the condition are just as likely to retain the diagnosis into adulthood as their older peers.

Experts from the University of Southampton and Paris Nanterre University, working with researchers worldwide, made the discovery after examining data from thousands of patients with ADHD.

Senior lead author Professor Samuele Cortese, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the University of Southampton, said that while younger students were more likely to be diagnosed than their older peers, it may not just be that their maturity is ‘lagging’ due to age.

“No one has ever explored if these younger children who are diagnosed with ADHD retain the diagnosis later on — until now. Our study shows for the first time that these youngsters are no more likely to lose the diagnosis over time than older children,” Professor Cortese said.

Globally, around 360 million people have been diagnosed with ADHD, according to the World Health Organisation, with approximately a third under the age of 18.

In total, the study examined data from more than 6,500 patients who have been followed up for a period between the ages of four and 33 years old.

Dr Corentin Gosling, an associate professor from the University Paris Nanterre in France and a visiting researcher at Southampton, was the first author of the study.

“Our work shows the diagnosis of ADHD in children with a young relative age is not especially unstable,” he said.

“However, it could not assess whether it is an appropriate diagnosis or it is because, once a child receives the ADHD label, parents and teachers consider the child as having ADHD and are influenced by the diagnosis.”

The final report from the ‘Assessment and Support Services for People with ADHD’ Senate Inquiry has been delayed until November 6 from an original October release date. The delay comes as freedom of information documents were released by the Department of Health and Aged Care regarding the increase of patients presenting with the condition.

ADHD advocates have stated that this increase in people seeking support for the condition is due to increased awareness of its symptoms and prevalence.

ADHD Awareness Month is celebrated every October, with ADHD Australia calling on increased awareness, understanding and support for people who live with learning disability. 


Have your attitudes about ADHD changed in recent years with the increased media exposure and Government focus? Let the team at Talking Disability know your thoughts on the exclusion of ADHD from the National Disability Insurance Scheme.