No one knows what causes ADHD. But researchers have found a number of factors that may contribute.
- Brain Function and Structure
- The brain of a child with ADHD is generally smaller than normal.
- Neurotransmitters aren't used properly in people with ADHD.
- Less activity in the part of the brain that controls activity and attention.
- ADHD tends to run in families. About one in four children with ADHD have at least one relative with the disorder.
- Exposure to Toxic Substances
- Maternal Smoking: women who smoke while pregnant increase the risk of having children with ADHD.
- Drug and alcohol abuse during pregnancy may also be a factor
- Pregnant women who are exposed to environmental poisons may be more likely to have children with symptoms of ADHD.
- Exposure to lead, PCBs and other toxic substances in infancy may cause ADHD.
These factors all point toward some physical or structural deficit in the brain as the cause of ADHD.
However, if we understand that there are other causes for hyperactivity, impulsiveness and inattentiveness, then it becomes clear that diagnosing ADHD can be difficult.
If we ask what causes hyperactivity and attention difficulties, then the field widens.
- Anxiety often causes anyone to be hyperactive or have problems with attention. What causes children to be anxious? Lots of things, things parents often overlook – like arguing in front of children, talking about financial or other problems, pressure to perform, academic pressure, etc..
- Trauma, (experiences where children perceive their well being is at risk), can cause the same symptoms. What commonly causes children to believe their well being is at risk? Abuse, neglect, divorce, loss of a parent, auto accidents, bullying, angry siblings, parents or teachers, to name a few.
- Attachment deficits often cause a host of behaviors including hyperactivity and attention problems. In fact, brain researchers are coming view all disorders that include emotional control issues as a spectrum caused by attachment deficit.
- Inconsistent parenting, lack of boundaries, rigid parenting, constricted psycho-social development, etc.
- Asperser’s disorder, autism and other developmental disabilities can cause symptoms similar to ADHD.
While any of these factors might be a part of a child’s life along with ADHD, they do not cause ADHD, and are apart from the brain development issue that is currently called ADHD. At Bill Jacobs LPCC we endeavor to correctly diagnose our clients' issues.
Implications for Treatment
While it is sometimes easier for parents to accept that their child has a genetically caused problem, more often, in our experience, a change in parental behavior causes a positive change in the child’s behavior and attitude.
For parents who are willing to work, it is often incredibly encouraging to know that they can cause positive change for their child.
In our Albuquerque counseling practice we like to work with parents who are willing to work for the well being of their children. We find this parental attitude necessary for good outcomes.