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It’s a common misconception that ADHD is something that you can grow out of, develop at any stage in your life and is curable. The fact is, ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, which means that the brain hasn’t developed neurotypically from birth. Research suggests that a brain with ADHD is likely to show impairments in various areas, and that these impairments are evident from birth. As with any biological disorder, a vital question is whether the biology can be inherited. This area has received a lot of attention over the years and a lot of research supports the fact that someone with ADHD is likely to have inherited the condition – however, this is not always the case.
Although there exists substantial medical evidence to support the above, there still remain many myths and misconceptions about whether ADHD is caused by external factors such as bad parenting or a poor diet.
In this blog, we will consider evidence that ADHD has genetic and biological roots and how external factors can exacerbate symptoms of ADHD but not cause them. Furthermore, we will provide some advice on how to moderate symptoms of ADHD by making external environmental changes.
One of the most popular myths for the cause of ADHD is excessive screen time. Although there is no medical evidence to suggest this is the case, there is ample research that suggests excessive screen time can exacerbate symptoms of ADHD. During the pandemic, screen time increased for many across the world, as people began working from home and children were being home-schooled. This increased screen time has corroborated with parent’s reports that ADHD symptoms (measured by behaviour) have significantly deteriorated during this time.
In addition, it is not uncommon for ADHD to present comorbidly with anxiety disorders. Over the last few years especially, many studies have unsurprisingly found that excessive screen time (particularly social media) correlates with worsening mental health. When anxiety is coupled with ADHD, it can trigger and intensify ADHD symptoms further.
Another popular myth for the cause of ADHD is sugar. Although it is widely known that sugar can boost energy levels (temporarily), there is no evidence to suggest that it causes ADHD. However, research suggests that excessive sugar intake does exacerbate symptoms such as inattention and hyperactivity.
There are many myths that try to explain the causes of ADHD and in doing so, with no research backing, they convey an unhelpful message for those living with the condition or for those who have children with the condition. Understanding that ADHD is a biological disorder enables one to focus on managing the condition. On the other hand, being falsely informed that it is caused by poor diet or too much screen time can create a misconception that ADHD is a product of a chosen lifestyle. This can therefore instil blame on others, and on the self, and can have a significant impact one someone’s experience of ADHD if they are focusing on a cure rather than management of symptoms.
Evidence suggesting that ADHD is a biological condition largely comes from research that has examined vital functions in the brain. Studies that compared these functions in those with ADHD and those without found impaired activity for those with ADHD in the following brain areas: the frontal cortex (regulates emotions), the basal ganglia (regulates attention and impulsivity), limbic system (regulates emotions and attention) and the reticular activating system (regulates attention, impulsivity and hyperactivity).
Furthermore, when comparing MRI brain scans between those with ADHD and those without, research has found a clear difference in size, particularly in the prefrontal cortex. It is important to know that although this difference is significant, it is not significant enough to diagnose someone with ADHD, which is why other assessments are necessary.
In addition, ample medical research supports findings that a child who has ADHD is likely to have inherited the condition from a family member. This information can prove vital when having an assessment for ADHD as it can help inform the diagnosis, and also help the clinician understand how ADHD might present specifically in your family.
It is therefore quite clear therefore that ADHD is not caused by external factors such as bad parenting, a poor diet, too much screen time or pollution, but it is a biological disorder that stems from the way the brain is formed.
Although there is still some research to be done to explain the links between genetics and ADHD, we can say a few things about ADHD with some certainty:
ADHD can manifest as hyperactivity, impulsiveness, inattentiveness or a combination of one or more. This is not to say that if someone shows signs of one or more of these behaviours they necessarily have ADHD, but if you notice these symptoms appearing prominently in daily life, there may be some level of ADHD present.
ADHD is closely linked with genetics and brain development, and so you cannot expect to remove ADHD forcibly by simply trying to focus harder at work or school. ADHD is something that can be managed, but not cured. With professional guidance, ADHD can become much easier to deal with.
For many people, ADHD is something commonly associated with children, but that is not always the case. ADHD can often continue into adult life, sometimes becoming more severe if undiagnosed and untreated. It can also lead to other difficulties such as anxiety, depression and panic attacks.
ADHD can often make concentrating at school or work incredibly difficult. Retaining information and even staying focused on a simple task can be challenging, but this doesn’t mean ADHD makes you unintelligent; it simply means you struggle to focus on specific tasks. If someone you know has ADHD and finds school or work challenging, don’t always assume they lack the capability to do well – and the same goes for yourself.
As we have seen, most research points to ADHD being linked to genetics, so no matter what parenting style you choose to undertake, you cannot change whether or not your child has ADHD. If your child is diagnosed with ADHD, it is important to ensure that you cater to their needs to help them cope with the symptoms. You can also seek professional guidance if you need more clarity on the symptoms and what they could mean for your child later in life.
Parents who find out their children have ADHD might worry that they will have less chances at succeeding in later life. Of course, this isn’t true – if children are diagnosed early and provided with appropriate support, there is no reason why they can’t go on to achieve incredible things. Even people with ADHD who don’t have treatment can eventually learn to manage the symptoms and find a career path that suits them.
Given the amount of research being carried out around ADHD, there are plenty of options when it comes to treatments. Whether you’re looking to find pharmaceutical treatments or you’d prefer to go down the therapeutic route, there will no doubt be a solution out there that’s right for you.
In a world where social media, video games and instant messaging are playing a more significant role in our lives (particularly children’s lives), it’s easy to see how people struggle to focus in an office or a classroom, where things generally move at a slower pace. Some research has shown that modern technology might affect those with ADHD to a greater extent, making it more challenging for them to focus on activities that don’t provide instant gratification.
If you find this to be true in your own life, consider reducing the amount of time you spend on your devices. Although it can’t cure your ADHD, it can certainly help improve concentration levels and general management of ADHD symptoms.
So, are you born with ADHD? Yes, the disorder tends to run in families – but you may not display the symptoms throughout your whole life. Being born with ADHD is known to have its limiting factors, but with support in managing your symptoms, you can expect to see great improvements.
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