Have We Found the Cause of ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a prevalent behavioral disorder that affects around 9.4% of children in US.

The greatest symptom of this disorder is the difficulty to focus without being distracted. ADHD is commonly co-diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder since both disorders tend to exist simultaneously.

Like Autism Spectrum Disorder, specific causes have yet to be established leading to many scientific debates as to how ADHD develops.

What is ADHD?

little-girl-3070209_960_720Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a behavioral disorder that affects children and teens and continue into adulthood. It is the most commonly diagnosed mental disorder in children.

Like I mentioned above, the main symptom of ADHD is the difficulty to focus without being distracted. However, there are many other symptoms that can be divided into 3 categories:

  1. Inattention
    Easily distracted, struggles to complete tasks, daydreaming, carelessly makes mistakes, difficulty sitting still, often loses things.
  2. Hyperactivity
    Squirms, fidgets and bounces while sitting, excessive talking, always on the go.
  3. Impulsivity
    Trouble turn taking, interrupts others, blurts out answers.

These are more child-specific symptoms but many of them can follow ADHD into adulthood, including impulsiveness, procrastination and even depression.

What Causes ADHD?

Like many behavioral disorders, there is no clear cause of ADHD. However, science is making advances and has hypothesized many viable causes for the disorder. I want to explore 3 theories that focus on what exactly causes ADHD.

Keep in mind that any behavioral disorder can be caused by a number of influences and individuals with ADHD may have developed it for different reasons.

Too Much Screen Time

(Ra, Cho, Stone, et al)

There’s no doubt that we live in a time of increased use of screens and it seems every child has one in their hands. There is also no refuting that the number of children diagnosed with ADHD has seen an increase in the past few years. Is there a connection?

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that there could be. The findings showed that the risk of developing ADHD symptoms more than doubled with high screen use. However, there is an indication that not all screen time is bad time: Playing video games with friends and family had virtually no correlation with ADHD symptoms whereas playing video games alone did.

Whether or not excessive screen time is inherently the cause of ADHD for some children, there is no refuting that it can be detrimental to their overall health. It is always in your child’s best interest to try and reduce screen time.

ADHD is a Genetic Condition

(National Human Genome Research Institute)

It has been proven that ADHD often runs in families – children with ADHD are four times more likely to have a relative with ADHD and twin studies have shown that in the majority of pairs where one twin has ADHD, the other does as well.

Studies have determined that ADHD involves at least two identifiable genes. However, researchers admit that there may be other contributing factors to the onset of ADHD as well.

Exposure to Toxins

(The Learning and Developmental Disabilities Initiative)

Scientific research does suggest that early exposure to chemicals – even those found in common household cleaners and personal care products – may contribute to the development of ADHD. Infants and children, because of their underdeveloped immune systems, are especially vulnerable to the neuro-biological affects of toxins.

While there is no concrete evidence to prove that toxins directly cause ADHD, there is scientific proof that exposure to chemicals can cause or exacerbate learning disabilities, delays and difficulties.

Science suggests that exposure to toxic chemicals may contribute substantially to the incidence of learning and developmental disabilities in this society. This concerns me deeply.

Larry Silver, MD
Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University

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  1. Donita Apkin says

    Thanks for the article. I have a question I was hoping you might be able to help with. Can you treat ADHD without drugs? My brother was recently diagnosed and I’m trying to help him out. Thanks in advance for your answer.

    1. Chelsy says

      The most successful treatment of ADHD involves the combination of drugs and behaviour therapy. However, the earlier behavioural therapy can be implemented, the better. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends behaviour therapy only before the age of 6. But even if your brother is an adult, there are therapy options he can explore.

      One interesting one is Interactive Metronome training, which uses a computerized tool that has users tap their hands or feet in time to a beat they hear through headphones. The program records their accuracy. It could be one way to help your brother improve his motor control, attention and focus.

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