How Does ADHD Develop?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is commonly diagnosed in school-age children and is characterized by symptoms of inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

Genetic, social, and environmental factors all play a role in ADHD development. Most children and adults with ADHD can learn to manage their symptoms with appropriate treatment, which is often a combination of medication and age-appropriate therapy.

Are you born with ADHD?

Children are not diagnosed with ADHD at birth, but ADHD does run in families. If a parent has ADHD, research studies have shown a high probability their child will develop the disorder.

ADHD diagnosis can occur as early as 3–4 years of age or after age 12, but most children are diagnosed during elementary school. This is because the classic ADHD symptoms cannot be assessed until later in childhood development.

Behaviors such as difficulty sitting still or taking turns are normal during early childhood but become more problematic and noticeable when other children develop self-control skills. Parents, teachers, healthcare professionals, or other adults may notice developmentally inappropriate behaviors and request further evaluation.

When and how does ADHD develop?

The current scientific consensus is that children with ADHD are born with genes that make them more likely to develop the disorder. As a child grows, the complex interaction of genetics, social situations, and environment influence behavior and personality. Therefore, a child born with the genetic predisposition for ADHD may or may not develop the disorder.

Research is ongoing to help clinicians and parents better understand ADHD development. A few important factors that do not cause ADHD include:

  • Sugar. Excess sugar intake does not cause ADHD.
  • Screens. The use of screens is not a factor in ADHD diagnosis.
  • Parenting. Poor parenting is not implicated in the diagnosis of ADHD in children.

ADHD is a brain disorder characterized by persistent inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity symptoms. Scientists have linked several genes to ADHD, and the physical brain structure is different in those with ADHD compared to those who do not have it.

What are the 3 main symptoms of ADHD?

Children with ADHD show persistent patterns of any combination of the three hallmark symptoms:

  1. Inattention. Easily distracted, forgetful, and avoid tasks that require prolonged attention.
  2. Impulsivity. Blurts answers, interrupts, and is unable to wait or take turns.
  3. Hyperactivity. Fidgets, is constantly 'on the go,' talks a lot.

Overall, symptoms must be present for at least six months and be inappropriate for the child's developmental stage. Behaviors and symptoms must also occur in at least two settings, such as home and school.

The patterns of behavior can look different from child to child. ADHD diagnosis can take time and often includes several methods of testing. Pediatricians, psychologists, psychiatrists, and certain other mental health professionals can diagnose ADHD. In addition, public schools are required to evaluate children for learning disabilities at parents' request.

3 subtypes of ADHD

There are three subtypes of ADHD. A clinician will assess the child and decide which category they fall into.

  1. Predominantly inattentive. The child qualifies for diagnosis based solely on inattentive measures.
  2. Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive. The child qualifies for diagnosis based solely on hyperactive-impulsive measures.
  3. Combined. The child qualifies for diagnosis based on both sets of measures.

Can ADHD go away?

Because ADHD has such strong genetic components, it will not just go away. Instead, your child will grow and develop and must learn to manage their symptoms and behaviors. Most children and adults with ADHD can be successful at school and in the workplace with appropriate treatment.

Treatment is aimed at helping your child manage their symptoms. Typical treatment includes a combination of:

  • Medication. There are many types of ADHD medication that can help with symptom management.
  • Individual therapy. Behavioral therapy appropriate for your child's developmental stage.
  • Family Therapy. Therapy for the whole family including parent coaching and teaching.

Symptoms change over time, but there is no cure for ADHD. Researchers estimate that about two-thirds of children diagnosed with ADHD will continue to have symptoms as adults. Hyperactivity does typically decrease through the teen years. Most adults struggle with inattentive ADHD symptoms, such as poor time management and organization skills.

ADHD development: tips for parents

  1. Ask for help. If you have concerns about your child's behavior, ask for help. Talk to your child's teacher, pediatrician, or other trusted professionals for guidance.
  2. Be patient. An ADHD diagnosis takes time. Treatment will include trial and error, gains, and setbacks.
  3. Don't blame yourself. Children with ADHD have different brain structures. You are not the cause of your child's disorder.
  4. Learn as much as you can. Visit trustworthy websites, read books, and find a support group.
  5. Look for the positive. ADHD isn't all negative. It may be hard to recognize positive behavior sometimes, but it's there. A positive outlook can drastically change how you perceive your child's behaviors.

ADHD development is linked to several genetic factors, but babies are not born with the disorder. However, if one parent has ADHD, there is a high likelihood ADHD will develop before your child turns 12. Research has shown that genetic, social, and environmental factors all influence ADHD development.

If you are concerned your child might have ADHD, talk with your pediatrician or your child's teacher to discuss the next steps for evaluation. Current treatments are very effective for ADHD management, and many resources are available to help you create the best plan for your family.

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