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ADHD: It Can Run in the Family

A child's ADHD diagnosis is often the key to helping parents realize they could have the condition, too.
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Rick Webster's son, Richy, stood out at school -- but not necessarily in a good way. He wasn't doing his homework, he was having combative interactions with teachers, and his grades were suffering as a result. While his classmates had trouble once in a while, Richy's difficulties were constant. Rick and his wife tried to get their 14-year-old son to focus on his studies, but the more they pushed, the more his behavior spiraled out of control. The yelling, a steady stream of calls from the school, and Richy's failing grades fueled the ever-present sense of strain in their home.

After months of struggling, Richy's parents and teachers met to discuss the situation. As they talked through his issues, each describing how the boy's behavior was having a negative impact on his academic and family life, it became more obvious than ever that Richy needed some help.

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Understanding ADHD -- the Symptoms

The symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder -- or ADHD -- vary from person to person, but consist of some combination of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Inattention. People who are inattentive have a hard time keeping their mind focused on one thing and may get bored with a task after only a few minutes. Focusing conscious, deliberate attention to organizing and completing routine tasks may be difficult. You may notice restlessness, procrastination, problems remembering...

Read the Understanding ADHD -- the Symptoms article > >

"We started with a pediatrician, but ended up at a psychiatric center," says Rick. "After several sessions and endless questions about Richy's behavior, we learned that his actions were symptomatic of ADHD."

ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is diagnosed by a trained clinician -- for example, a psychiatrist, psychologist, or pediatrician. The clinician rules out other possible causes for the symptoms, such as a learning disability or undetected seizures; conducts a thorough physical examination; asks parents and teachers to describe the child's behavior; and, finally, spends time with the child to learn how he or she behaves during situations that demand self-control and attention, including reading, working math problems, and playing a board game. Children with the disorder often show lack of attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that are ongoing, disruptive, and inappropriate for their age.

The process can evaluate the symptoms and lead to a diagnosis of ADHD, which affects more than 2 million kids such as Richy in the United States today. "Learning about Richy's ADHD was the first step in helping him and our family get back on track," says Rick.

But Richy's diagnosis brought something else to light for Rick: The conversation Rick and his wife had with Richy's teachers reminded him of his own youth and his troubles with school, with peers, and with his parents. And he thought of his continued struggles into adulthood with seemingly simple tasks: organizing his calendar, focusing on projects, and getting out of the house on time each morning.

In fact, Richy's diagnosis made Rick realize ADHD just might run in the family.

Is ADHD Inherited Behavior?

"More and more adults are starting to realize that the symptoms of ADHD they see in their children are behaviors they've been living with since their own childhood," says Patricia Quinn, MD, author of Putting on the Brakes: Young People's Guide to Understanding Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). "So as a result of pediatric diagnoses of this condition, we are also starting to see an increase in adult ADHD, as parents are being diagnosed alongside their kids."

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