A study published in the March 2013 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that 9 out of 10 young children with moderate to severe attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) continue to experience serious to severe symptoms and impairment long after their original diagnoses, and in many cases, despite treatment.
The study, a federally funded multi-center study led by investigators at Johns Hopkins Children's Center, is the largest long-term analysis to date of preschoolers with ADHD, according to the researchers, and sheds much-needed light on the natural course of a condition that is being diagnosed at an increasingly earlier age.
"ADHD is becoming a more common diagnosis in early childhood, so understanding how the disorder progresses in this age group is critical," said lead researcher Mark Riddle, M.D., a pediatric psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins Children's Center. "We found that ADHD in preschoolers is a chronic and rather persistent condition, one that requires better long-term behavioral and pharmacological treatments than we currently have."
The study shows that nearly 90 percent of the 186 youngsters followed continued to struggle with ADHD symptoms six years after diagnosis; children taking ADHD medication had just as severe symptoms as those who were medication-free.
Children with ADHD, ages 3 to 5, were enrolled in the study and treated for several months, after which they were referred to community pediatricians for ongoing care. Over the next six years, the researchers used detailed reports from parents and teachers to track the children's behavior, school performance, and the frequency and severity of three of ADHD's hallmark symptoms-inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. In addition, children had full diagnostic workups by the study's clinicians at the beginning, halfway through, and at the end of the research.