That’s one of the most popular questions people have about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The popular answer to that question used to be “genetics.” Like many other adults with ADHD, I can pinpoint which side of the family my ADHD comes from, and which family members clearly have ADHD themselves. (My mother loves to say, “You got it from your father,” not realizing that she is the epitome of adult ADHD.)
There’s a sense of comfort that comes from being able to look at the members of your family and know that you got the ADHD genes in the way you got your hair and eye color. It’s nice to think, as Thom Hartmann, author of The Edison Gene: ADHD and the Gift of the Hunter Child has pointed out, that ADHD has stuck around in the gene pool all these thousands upon thousands of years for a reason. That the ADHD brain, while different from 95% of the other brains, holds some sort of special place in the world, perhaps fueling the inventors and visionaries of the past, the present, and the future.
But recent studies are showing another kind of ADHD, an ADHD that’s caused by environmental factors. Just last week, a study in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine concluded that gestational diabetes and low socioeconomic status, “especially in combination, heighten the risk for childhood ADHD. Long-term prevention efforts should be directed at mothers with GDM to avoid suboptimal neurobehavioral development and mitigate the risk for ADHD among their offspring.”
Additional studies have also suggested that secondhand smoke may cause ADHD and that fast-paced television shows can decrease a child’s attention span. Clearly, this is not Thom Hartmann’s ADHD.
There’s a growing body of research around the concept of ‘epigenetics.’ Epigenetics refers to the fact that, at least in some instances, our environment influences the genes our bodies choose to express—both in-utero and after birth. In light of that, it isn’t surprising that maternal diabetes would increase the likelihood of ADHD.
So what are we talking about here, true ADHD, or ADHD-like symptoms? The medical community doesn’t differentiate. The symptoms make the diagnosis, not the genetics. And while it’s nice to think that our ADHD has been passed down for generations because it serves a useful purpose, ADHD that is a result of environmental factors seems somewhat less romantic.
There is still much to be discovered and explained about ADHD. And no matter what the studies show, the important thing to remember is that whether or not ADHD can be prevented, it can be treated—and managed.
I’d love to know what you think about these recent findings. Please share your thoughts in the comments!