ADHD and Heredity

Terry Matlen, ACSW Health Guide
  • I was 41 years old when I discovered, quite serendipitously, that I had adult ADHD. Before then, I had no idea why I was disorganized, distracted and had difficulty concentrating. My story is a common one, in that I didn't learn of my ADHD diagnosis until my own daughter was diagnosed with the disorder. At the time, I had no idea how to help my very hyperactive, impulsive little girl. So I did what many parents do. I began to read and research.


    What I found was that ADHD is highly genetic- it tends to run in families. In fact, children whose parents have ADHD have a 50% chance of developing the condition. And one in four children with ADHD has at least one relative with the disorder.

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    According to a fascinating interview with Dr. Stephen Farone, a highly esteemed professor and researcher at the State University of New York, genes account for a substantial portion of ADHD -- roughly 76% of the etiology.


    We know now that ADHD is not due to poor parenting, too much TV or over-loading on sugar, but that it's a condition that people with ADHD are born with.


    My case was a bit more unusual in that my daughter is adopted, so there was no genetic link between her ADHD and mine. However, when reading the few books out at the time on the topic, I saw many of my own family members aptly described. My jaw dropped when I read descriptions of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity and how both children and adults are affected. It was like reading my family tree! Soon after, I realized that I, too, fit the profile. Finally, the pieces of the puzzle began to come together. Perhaps I wasn't lazy, incapable or had unconscious fears of succeeding, after all. Maybe, just maybe, I too had ADHD- like my daughter. A few appointments with a capable psychologist confirmed my suspicions. Looking back and understanding how highly genetic ADHD is, it now makes perfect sense. I was born with ADHD and it runs rampant in my biological family.


    Many adults who are diagnosed with ADHD become depressed when they find out the reason for their chronic difficulties. They experience a sense of loss; the many years of less than stellar school and work performance continue to haunt them. Failed marriages, relationships and other personal disasters have, by adulthood, stolen the last bit of self-esteem they might have held on to.


    But for me, the diagnosis was liberating. Finally there were answers! I could move forward. And with the proper treatment, I did; choosing a career path that would help others, like me, learn that living with ADHD was not a death sentence, but a challenge peppered with obstacles that could be overcome.


    That's not to say that living with ADHD is a breeze; it's not. In fact, many like me are still challenged in a number of areas, even with the proper treatment and support. Parenting, in particular, can be difficult when there's ADHD in the mix.


    My article, "ADHD and Guilt: How to Handle Parenting and Boredom" discusses the difficulties often associated with parenting when an ADHD parent cannot tolerate the daily, mundane part of the routine. Along the same lines, adults with ADHD often find summers- particularly summer vacations- difficult to manage because of the lack of structure, added chaos of children at home and the change in routine. See my article, "Surviving Summer Holidays: 10 Ways to Keep Your Sanity on Summer Vacations."


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    So if you're thinking you might have ADHD, look at your family tree, both above and below you. If you see ADHD symptoms either way, it's time to have yourself evaluated for possible ADHD as well.

Published On: November 12, 2008