What Causes ADHD: Comparing Facts and Myths
After hearing the initial ADHD diagnosis for either yourself or your child, one of the first things that could race through your mind is “What could have possibly caused this?” Pinpointing what causes ADHD is a common way people begin to wrap their brains around the diagnosis. So, in order to tame this internal uncertainty, you turned to the internet for answers. Unfortunately, not everything you see on the internet is 100% true. In this article, we will tell you about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and what causes ADHD, while debunking the doubtful “causes” that are painted across the internet.
What is ADHD?
One of the first questions you may ask yourself is what is ADHD? Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is defined by the National Institute of Mental Health as a neurological condition which exhibits an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.
ADHD is prevalent in both children and adults. Many of us have basic stereotypes of what ADHD is, however, it is really a combination of many complex behaviors. These behaviors are sometimes deemed detrimental to development, because it may negatively affect school performance and social ability.
There are three basic criteria of behaviors used for classification of symptoms:
- Involves constant movement.
- Typically, can’t sit still, even in situations where sitting still is socially mandatory.
- Also includes excessive; fidgeting, tapping or talking.
- Hyperactivity in adults would include; constant restlessness and excessive activity.
- Habitually wanders off task
- Lacks persistence
- Displays difficulty maintaining focus
- Generally disorganized.
Makes foolish decisions without first thinking, these decisions may be potentially harmful to either themselves or others.
- When making important decisions, one may not consider the long-term ramifications.
- Usually displays a desire for immediate incentive and/or inability to delay gratification.
- During a conversation, they may be socially intrusive and consistently interrupt others.
Other Useful Facts about ADHD:
- Statistically, 8.4% of children are diagnosed with ADHD, while 2.5% of the adult ADHD population has been diagnosed.
- Research suggests that boys are three times more likely in comparison to girls to be diagnosed.
- Sometimes children with ADHD often face other obstacles such as; learning disabilities (including dyslexia), behavioral problems, problems with socialization or mood disorders (such as depression and anxiety).
What Causes ADHD
It is quite tricky to address what causes ADHD because there are no finite causes. When diagnosing any condition, there is no layout of what you did in the past that automatically caused the condition to occur. We have theories and certain concepts that have scientific research to back them. However, some of the potential causes that you read online are outlandish and nothing more than a myth. Lets review what might be facts or myths in what causes ADHD.
Fact or Myth: What causes ADHD- Inheritability
- There is a genetic component to ADHD, meaning there is an increased likelihood you can inherit it through your genetics.
- Typically, people who have ADHD have blood family members that also show symptoms.
- At least 1/3 of fathers who have had ADHD symptoms and/or diagnosis will pass it on to their future children.
- According to the NIH, Scientists believe that genetically ADHD is a complex disorder, involving at least two or more of our genes.
Fact or Myth: What causes ADHD – Abnormal Brain Development
- Abnormal brain development can occur prenatally, during or even after birth.
- An ADHD brain has a slightly smaller brain mass.
- The amygdala and the hippocampus are typically smaller in brains of people who have ADHD. These brain areas are important for emotional processing.
- In the brain of someone with ADHD, there is typically a decreased amount of blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, which is an important part of the brain in regard to decision making and problem-solving. Decreased blood flow results in decreased brain activity.
- One study found that children with ADHD do not make the same neural connections between the visual processing areas of the brain and the frontal cortex. This suggests that the ADHD brains process information differently.
Fact or Myth: What causes ADHD – Traumatic Brain Injury
- A traumatic brain injury is defined by an injury to the brain, caused by external force, which results in neuron death or alternative cognitive function.
- Children who have suffered TBI may later show symptoms of ADHD.
- Only a small percent of children has been afflicted by TBI.
Fact or Myth: What causes ADHD – Neurotransmitter Imbalance
- A neurotransmitter is a chemical messenger that travels through our neurons and on a bigger scale, influences certain behaviors to occur.
- An important neurotransmitter involved in ADHD is Dopamine. Dopamine is important for the reward of a given task.
- In ADHD, there is a dysregulation of the dopamine system, meaning there isn’t enough dopamine or it is being used unproductively. When there isn’t enough, we don’t have the internal motivation to focus on a task. When it is being used unproductively, we have the motivation, however, it may not be applicable to the required task.
Fact or Myth: What causes ADHD – Poor Prenatal Health
- There is a potential link between smoking/drinking during pregnancy and the development of ADHD in their child.
- Children exposed to high prenatal amounts of tobacco are 2.4 times more likely to develop ADHD.
Fact or Myth: What causes ADHD – Lead Exposure
- Most lead exposure seen in children comes through lead-based paint usually seen in old homes, schools or other old buildings.
- Preschoolers exposed to high amounts of lead have a higher risk of developing ADHD.
- Children with ADHD tend to have higher lead blood-levels in comparison to other kids.
- The interaction between lead exposure and a specific gene is the probable cause of how lead exposure leads to ADHD.
Fact or Myth: What causes ADHD – High Sugar/Poor Diet
- The idea that sugar causes ADHD is popular, however, research has discredited it.
- A bad diet during a child’s early development, especially a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acid, can result in a lack of brain development and function.
- Food allergies or sensitivities do not cause ADHD
- High sugar diet typically induces hyperactive behavior in children but it is different in comparison to the hyperactive behavior caused by ADHD.
- Regardless, a high sugar diet is still not a nutritional diet to feed your child.
Fact or Myth: What causes ADHD – Excessive Video Games and Television Screen Time
- There is a slight correlation between screen time and ADHD symptoms.
- However, there is not enough research to determine if it’s a causation or if it is because children who have ADHD gravitate towards the screen.
- Kids who frequently play video games typically already have intense symptoms of ADHD.
Fact or Myth: What causes ADHD – Bad Parenting
- Sometimes, symptoms of ADHD and rebellious behavior are confused for one another.
- According to the National Resources Center, there is no evidence supporting parenting style leads to ADHD.
- On the contrary, a stressful home life or unaccepting parents and peers may intensify ADHD symptoms.
- Tips on Parenting with ADHD.
What causes ADHD: Misdiagnosis
Over-diagnosing or underdiagnosing ADHD in children is a big problem in the medical community. The standardized environment that is a typical classroom believes that children have to follow the pace of the classroom. But, if the class pace is too fast or slow, the child is considered to have ADHD.
Performance in a classroom shouldn’t always be the determinant if a child has ADHD because there are so many other factors that can cause a child to not focus. Symptoms displayed across different environments and activities would be a better predictor to determine if a child has ADHD.
Researchers at North Carolina State University discovered that children who are somewhat younger than their peers are diagnosed with ADHD, when in fact, they are really just developmentally behind due to a younger age.
On the contrary, other doctors believe that ADHD is actually underdiagnosed, going untreated which may also be the case. Some may misinterpret ADHD symptoms for developmental characteristics, behavioral problems, etc.
The brain of someone afflicted with ADHD is not defective. There is no real thing as a “normal” brain. Everyone’s brain functioning, in a sense, is different from the norm and that is what makes our society exceptional. The ability to look at the world in a different perceptive is an underrated gift. If you or your child has been recently diagnosed with ADHD, embrace your uniqueness and search for a proper treatment that helps cope with the symptoms!
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Genevieve is a recent college graduate from the University at Albany, where she studied Psychology and Neuroscience. Genevieve was involved in the CAFE Project, a research lab affliatied with the University at Albany. CAFE Project was focused on family and community violence experienced in childhood and the effects on long term adjustment, as well as MBSR techniques and the benefits they have on reduction of psychophysiology. Genevieve also worked as a Behavioral Therapist for early intervention programs helpful for teaching developmental milestones for children who have ASD. Currently, she is involved in an Evolutionary Psychology lab through State University of New York at New Paltz. She plans to go to graduate school in Fall 2019.