Possible Causes of ADHD

By Amanda Morin

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ADHD is one of the most common childhood brain-based conditions. Researchers still don’t know the exact cause, but they do know that genes, differences in brain development and some outside factors like prenatal exposure to smoking might play a role. Find out more.

235Found this helpful
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Genes and Heredity

Researchers looking into the role of genetics in ADHD say it can run in families. If your biological child has ADHD, there’s a one in four chance you have ADHD too, whether it’s been diagnosed or not.

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Differences in Brain Development

There are various areas of the brain that control your child’s ability to do things like “hit the brakes” and pay attention. Studies show that these areas may develop more slowly or be less active in kids with ADHD. The best evidence for this occurs in the front part of the brain, or the frontal lobe.

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Differences in Brain Chemistry

For us to maintain focus and control our impulses, our brain uses several important brain chemicals. Scientists call them “neurotransmitters.” They include norepinephrine and dopamine. These chemicals travel in complex circuits. They direct our attention and other important cognitive and behavioral processes. Scientists suspect that when someone has ADHD, the circuits may not be organized or “wired” in a typical way. This can make it hard to use certain brain chemicals effectively.

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Brain Injuries and Epilepsy

Children who’ve had traumatic brain injuries or who have epilepsy but who don’t have ADHD can often have ADHD-like symptoms. The number of children who have ADHD and have also experienced a brain injury is small. Researchers aren’t sure whether epileptic seizures can cause brain changes that trigger ADHD or if the two conditions simply coexist.

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Environmental Factors

Some external factors affecting brain development have also been linked to ADHD. Prenatal exposure to smoke may increase your child’s risk of developing ADHD. Exposure to high levels of lead as a toddler and preschooler is another possible contributor.

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One Thing That Doesn’t Cause ADHD

While researchers continue to search for possible causes of ADHD, one thing is clear: Your parenting skills aren’t the cause. ADHD doesn’t come from a lack of discipline or concern. It’s a brain-based biological condition. By loving and accepting your child, you can be the most powerful positive force in your child’s life.

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5 Common Myths About ADHD

There are a lot of misconceptions about ADHD (also known as ADD). This can make it hard to know what’s true and how best to support your child. Here we separate myth from fact to help you feel more confident in your ADHD knowledge.

4 Key Symptoms of ADHD

Is your child easily distracted? Impulsive? Daydreamy? Hyperactive? If your child acts some of these ways most of the time, what you’re seeing may be signs of ADHD, a medical condition that can be helped through a variety of strategies.

About the Author

Portrait of Amanda Morin

Amanda Morin

A parent advocate and former teacher, Amanda Morin is the proud mom of kids with learning and attention issues and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.

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Reviewed by Bob Cunningham, M.A., Ed.M. Dec 03, 2013 Dec 03, 2013

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