What Causes Attention Deficit Disorders?

By Jane Framingham, Ph.D.

Doctors do not know exactly what causes ADHD. Through the years, they have speculated that toxins, abnormal fetal development, diet, injury or poor parenting are to blame.

The earliest research into what is now known as ADHD dates back to 1902, when a British pediatrician described 20 children who were “passionate,” obstinant and unable to control their impulses. At the time, he suggested a brain injury might be the key. This has not been confirmed as a cause in most cases. Since then, practitioners have observed that faulty genetics is the more likely culprit.

Today, scientists are scrutinizing genetics for answers. Many now suspect a series of malfunctioning genes may obstruct the normal secretion of chemicals that guide communication among cells in areas of the brain responsible for inhibition and self-control. This breakdown leads to a loss of self-control, impeding other brain functions responsible for maintaining attention. In fact, the brain regions involved have been shown to be smaller and less active on scans taken from children with ADHD compared to those taken from healthy children.

Just what may be causing the reduced size of these brain regions is not yet known. Again, researchers hypothesize a genetic mutation may be to blame. Many now believe that more than one gene plays a role in ADHD. Evidence shows relatives of children with the disorder are significantly more likely to develop it than children from unaffected families. Furthermore, the children of a parent who has ADHD have up to a one in two chance of also developing it. And studies of twins have placed the risk of ADHD in a child whose identical twin has the disorder at up to 18 times that of a non-twin sibling of a child with ADHD.

While birth injuries and maternal alcohol or tobacco use may be factors in some cases of ADHD, most experts agree those factors account for less than 10 percent of cases.

As scientists seek clues in the hunt for a definitive cause, many insist that a number of the world’s great inventors, artists and thinkers have exhibited traits of attention deficit disorder— and have succeeded because of it, not despite it.

Robert Frost, Frank Lloyd Wright, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Virginia Woolf, Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla are examples of creative individuals whose behavior could also be interpreted as the inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity of ADHD.

Does poor parenting cause ADHD?

No. But some parenting practices can complicate the course of ADHD and lower the success of treatment, such as inconsistent discipline, inconsistency between parents or between parents and the child’s caretaker, or inconsistency over time (such as enforcing rules one day but not the next). These practices do not cause ADHD, but they can make life more difficult for these children and complicate treatment.

What is the role of sugar and diet in causing hyperactivity?
While eliminating excessive sugar in the diet is overall a healthy practice, it is not necessary for parents to engage in big battles with their children over sugar with the hopes of improving their ADHD. Research has shown sugar consumption does not cause or exacerbate ADHD symptoms such as hyperactivity.

 

APA Reference
Framingham, J. (2006). What Causes Attention Deficit Disorders?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 29, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/what-causes-attention-deficit-disorders/000249
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 10 Mar 2014
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.