ADHD.. .. What Every Parent Needs to Know; for Years They Were Dismissed as 'Just Naughty', but Scientists Have Made a Breakthrough in Understanding Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. So What Could It Mean for You? by Charlotte Haigh
Byline: Charlotte Haigh
Watching a child tear around a room, unable to sit still for more than a few seconds, an outsider might be inclined to blame their upbringing.
Parents of these seemingly uncontrollable children have grown used to rolled eyes, tuts and nasty comments from disapproving passers-by. And when such children were diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, some saw it as an excuse for bad behaviour and bad parenting. But new research has linked ADHD firmly to genetics.
The study, led by Professor Anita Thapar at Cardiff University, found children with ADHD are twice as likely to have bits of genes either missing or duplicated. And those
with ADHD and learning difficulties are six times more likely to have these gene variations. That gene area has also been linked with schizophrenia and autism.
So for the first time a significant link between genetic abnormalities and ADHD has been proved. At last parents can show there is a reason their child is misbehaving and experts can start looking for effective treatments.
What is ADHD?
"It's a developmental condition characterised by inattention and difficulty concentrating, along with hyperactivity and impulsivity. Although some may have the disorder without the hyperactive element," says Dr Dinah Jayson, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at Trafford Healthcare NHS Trust, Manchester.
Those with it are at much higher risk of getting into trouble at school and falling into crime, substance abuse, and broken relationships, if untreated.
It's thought to affect up to 5% of the population, although many people go undiagnosed.
"It's possible we're more aware of it because society has changed so much. In the past, we tended to do manual jobs, so someone with ADHD may not have stood out in that context," says Dr Jayson.
"Now, we prize being able to sit quietly and concentrate on paperwork - things someone with ADHD may find impossible."
Although ADHD is normally associated with children, it often stretches into adulthood, too.
"While some outgrow it, 60% will have symptoms as adults, with half of these still needing medication," says Dr Jayson.
An adult with ADHD will typically find it difficult to complete a task or concentrate on a conversation. To others they may come across as rude and disorganised." adds Dr Jayson.
Here comes the science part..
"The new study was the first to look directly at the genes," Dr Jayson says. However, genes don't tell the whole story. The genetic variations raise the risk of ADHD, but don't guarantee the disorder will develop.
"Environmental factors play an important role," says Dr Jayson. "If the mother is very anxious during her pregnancy, high levels of stress hormones in the womb can double the chances of ADHD if the child already has a genetic risk.
"And, in childhood, if there's disruption of some kind in the family home or lack of structured activities, support or supervision, that may contribute to problems in a child with a genetic tendency to ADHD."
It isn't about bad parenting - sometimes the environment that provides the chance for ADHD to develop is due to circumstances - where you live, a lack of support or an illness.
There was a popular myth that children with ADHD had problems because they were fed on foods high in additives and sugar.
Not so, says Dr Jayson. "Some additives can produce ADHD-like symptoms in children, but in those with the disorder the symptoms will persist even if the additives are removed from their diet."
Get a diagnosis
If children with ADHD are untreated, they are more likely to fall behind at school and be branded troublemakers. This, Dr Jayson says, can trigger a downward spiral with other behavioural issues or depression and anxiety, piling on top of the ADHD symptoms.
If you notice your child is having problems when they start school, flag it up with your GP. "It is not necessarily down to ADHD - it may just be normal childhood behaviour."
Give them a structured environment
Children with ADHD need firm but warm supervision. Make sure the school is aware of the condition and is supportive.
"Ritalin and similar drugs work by stimulating the parts of the brain that give you signals to curb your inappropriate behaviour," says Dr Jayson.
"Without medication, those with ADHD are at a higher risk of involvement in crime, teen pregnancy, substance misuse, unemployment and so on. With medication, risk falls to that of the normal population."
Ensure a healthy lifestyle
While poor diet doesn't cause ADHD, too much sugary junk food will exacerbate symptoms.
Make sure your child has a balanced diet with plenty of fresh food, fruit and vegetables. Regular exercise is also important.
Bringing up a child with ADHD can be upsetting and exhausting. Sharing your experiences can be very helpful.
ADHD is treatable and children can excel. "These kids are often very intelligent, creative and enthusiastic," says Dr Jayson. "If they grow up in a supportive environment their energy can be directed productively and they can become high achievers."
Find out more
Read: Understanding Children's Behaviour by Dr Dinah Jayson [Family Doctor Publications]
Our story has had a happy ending
Caroline Williams, 59, from Horsham in Sussex, was relieved when her son Oli, now 21, was diagnosed with ADHD as a teenager - then she discovered she also has the disorder.
"I always knew Oli was different. Even as a small child he was strong-willed, impulsive, stubborn and would not sleep. His nature scared me.
On one holiday, he climbed up a big cliff while I screamed at him to come down. He just ignored me.
When we asked doctors for help the implication was we were bad parents, which was isolating.
Things grew worse when he went to secondary school. He had to move around the school for every lesson, have lots of different teachers and keep his stuff in a locker. For a kid with ADHD that's too disruptive.
Oli behaved badly and played truant so was asked to leave.
At 14, he was finally diagnosed with ADHD, without the hyperactive element, and it was a relief.
Oli was put on Ritalin and other medication. It made some difference but it wasnt a magic bullet. He was excluded from his next school, but still managed to get nine GCSEs.
Getting a job helped stabillise him, but he still got into trouble with gambling and crashed his car - all part of his impulsive nature. That made him think about his life and he decide study alone for his A-levels.
He did so well he now studies maths at Cambridge University, where he is in his second year. Our story does show ADHD doesn't mean a life of failure and chaos. Oli has turned a corner.
Meanwhile, I began to suspect I may be affected. It explained years of disorganisation and a feeling I didn't fit in.
Eventually I was diagnosed, and I will take medication to treat it.
I was pleased to hear about the study linking ADHD to genetics.
It's not the full answer, but I hope it starts to change opinion."
Could your child be affected?
Your son or daughter could have ADHD if:
They are a troublemaker or the class clown.
"This is particularly the case for boys, who are more likely to tear around being disruptive," says Dr Jayson. "ADHD, like autism, is more common in boys anyway."
They are daydreamers.
"This sort of inattention is more likely to be a sign in girls and may well be missed as a symptom of ADHD," says Dr Jayson.
They seem over-excitable in a range of situations.
"It's normal for children to be hyperactive at a party in a strange house, but if they act like this wherever they are it could be a sign of ADHD," says Dr Jayson.
They are impulsive.
Kids with ADHD lack stop signs - they don't tend to know when their behaviour is dangerous or inappropriate. This improves naturally with age but may be delayed or absent in people with ADHD.
DIAGNOSED: Oli and his mum Caroline Williams have ADHD…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: ADHD.. .. What Every Parent Needs to Know; for Years They Were Dismissed as 'Just Naughty', but Scientists Have Made a Breakthrough in Understanding Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. So What Could It Mean for You? by Charlotte Haigh. Contributors: Not available. Newspaper title: The Mirror (London, England). Publication date: October 8, 2010. Page number: 32. © 2009 MGN LTD. COPYRIGHT 2010 Gale Group.
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