the significant link between childhood ADHD and adult homelessness
The immediate effects of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are challenging enough for any child and family. The lack of attention, impulsivity, constant movement and other mental illness sign and symptoms can wreak havoc on a child’s life at home and at school, and make everyday activities escalate out of control.
While ADHD is sometimes dismissed, new evidence suggests that this illness should be taken seriously and treated carefully, as ADHD in childhood may increase a child’s odds of becoming a homeless adult.
“In a first-of-its-kind study, a team tracked 134 boys who were diagnosed with ‘hyperkinetic reaction of childhood’ in the 1970s, when they were six to 12 years old,” notes Tom Jacobs in Pacific Standard.
The boys were re-evaluated 33 years later, Jacobs notes. What researchers found was startling.
“When they were re-evaluated at [a mean age of] 41, nearly 24 percent reported they had experienced at least one period of homelessness that lasted a week or longer. The figure for a comparison group of boys was 4.4 percent,” he writes.
Jacobs is referring to a study NIH-funded study reported by the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. The research team concluded that childhood ADHD does appear to be a predictor of adult homelessness.
“Findings point to the need for clinical monitoring of childhood ADHD through adolescence, even when ADHD does not persist, in hopes of mitigating a cascade of malfunction that includes homelessness,” the researchers concluded. (Murillo et. al., 2016)
For families and their medical teams, this is important news. Children with ADHD – even when successfully treated – may need additional help overcoming some of the obstacles they’ll face as they make the transition to successful adults.
Adults with ADHD often have difficulties at work and problems with developing stable careers. Struggling with focus, concentration and finishing tasks present real challenges, and can lead to being let go or trouble even getting hired. This is especially true in fields that require strict working conditions, set hours and tight deadlines.
They may also find themselves in legal trouble. If ADHD symptoms are left untreated into adulthood, impulsivity can leave sufferers with money troubles, volatile relationships and even trouble getting and keeping a driver’s license. What could be a minor hassle to most adults, like appearing in court for a traffic ticket, can turn into a huge legal issue if they miss their court date or fail to file taxes. Once in the system, it’s easy to have these encounters escalate out of control. Youth with ADHD are prone to self medicate with substances which could lead to more trouble as well as they further inhibit some of the normal functions of the brain.
If you suspect your child has ADHD (or if they’ve previously been diagnosed) talk to your medical team about future implications. Create a careful plan that includes appropriate medication, psychological support and behavioral therapies, and continue formal monitoring of your child’s progress. Make sure the child is part of the planning and is aware of what’s being done on their behalf. This can help make sure that your loved one will take ownership of their disease and continue to make appropriate decisions about their own care when they become adults.
With an eye to the best for our kids,
Michele Autenrieth Brown is the director of development for Clarity Child Guidance Center. She became passionate mental health advocate after trying to navigate the system of care to support a family member. When she is not shuttling kids to practices or spending time with her husband, Michele is perfecting just what to say to get the perfect eye roll and sigh from her teen and pre-teen children.
If you are experiencing an emergency, please call 9-1-1. If you need help locating mental health resources in your area, visit the Bexar County Community Resource website, call your local health department or the National Alliance Mental Illness's helpline at 800-950- NAMI (6264).