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Sharing a Diagnosis: When You and Your Child Have ADHD

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WebMD Feature

Your son or daughter was just diagnosed with ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. And as you sat there in the office, listening to the doctor tick off the symptoms – the attention problems, the disorganization, the fidgeting – you recognized yourself. Suddenly, you wonder: Could I have adult ADHD?

You very well might. ADHD runs in families, and experts say that for any child with ADHD, there’s a 30% to 40% chance that one of the parents has it.

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But for many adults, the idea never occurs to them until their children get diagnosed.

It’s a common pattern, says David W. Goodman MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “I might treat a 16-year-old with ADHD,” Goodman tells WebMD. “The next thing you know, his 40-year-old father gets diagnosed, and then his 43-year-old uncle. ADHD becomes part of the family tree.”

Since adult ADHD can have a profoundly negative impact on your life, it’s important to get help, especially since you’re not the only person in the family who has the condition. Here’s what you need to know.

ADHD in Children vs. Adults

If you think of ADHD as a childhood condition that kids grow out of, you’re hardly alone. But you’re wrong.

While ADHD always starts in childhood – symptoms appear before age 7 – it usually doesn’t end there. “Two out of three children with ADHD will continue to have ADHD as adults,” says Lenard Adler MD, a professor of psychiatry and director of the Adult ADHD Program at the New York University School of Medicine.

Many adults with ADHD were never diagnosed as kids – their symptoms were just missed. That’s especially common in girls, says Adler. Teachers and parents are more likely to focus on the noisy, disruptive boys than the inattentive girls.

Other people with undiagnosed adult ADHD were actually diagnosed as kids. But back then, pediatricians told people they’d grow out of it, says Goodman, who is also director of the Adult Attention Deficit Disorder Center of Maryland in Baltimore. It may have seemed that way. A first grader  with ADHD who used to get in trouble for standing on his chair and shouting during story time might seem a lot calmer by the time he gets to college. But in many cases, the ADHD isn’t gone. The symptoms have changed.

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