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Getting ADHD Kids Back to School

Expert strategies for preparing ADHD kids for a new school year.
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WebMD Magazine - Feature

For Trish White, 32, and her kids, Joshua, 11, and Elissa, 7, the end of summer means more than just heading back to school. It means getting reacquainted with more structure and routine, adjusting to the demands of homework, and the rigidity of an eight-hour school day -- not to mention the social pressures of the playground. But for the Whites, these challenges are compounded.

Joshua and Elissa have ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Joshua's disorder leans toward an inability to maintain attention, while Elissa is more hyperactive. On top of the back-to-school anxiety many kids feel, both must cope with the demands of adding ADHD into the mix.

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"Back to school is not an easy time of year" for most families, says White, who lives in Annapolis, Md., and works for Children and Adults With Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or CHADD, a national nonprofit organization that supports families living with this disorder. "But for us, it requires a lot of time, preparation, and commitment to help the kids be successful."

How Common Is ADHD?

This end-of-summer dilemma is not unique to the White household; about 2 million children in the U.S. have ADHD. For the average classroom of 25 or 30 students, that means at least one will likely have ADHD, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

What's the best way for parents to help kids get ready? Try to understand as much as you can about the disorder and what scientists are learning about it, advise experts. And take it one school day, one step at a time.

What Causes ADHD?

No one knows exactly what causes this behavioral disorder. A brain injury may be behind some cases, and environmental and genetic factors could be to blame as well.

In particular, family history seems to play a significant role: 25% of close relatives of those with ADHD may have it too. And for people with a family history, it's possible genetic makeup could increase the odds of one's getting it by as much as 50% to 80%. Take dads, as an example. At least one-third of all fathers who had ADHD in their youth have children with ADHD.

Today, researchers are at work finding a connection between family background and ADHD, which could one day lead to better treatment.

NIMH is one organization leading the charge when it comes to genes and ADHD. In 1997, NIMH launched an ADHD genetics study, which has so far enrolled 1,500 adults and children. The continuing study's next phase could analyze the genetic makeup of more than 1,200 people living with ADHD to identify the genes that play a part in this disorder.

Scientists believe ADHD involves at least two genes, but with 20,000 genes in the human genome, the search is similar to hunting for a needle in a haystack. While the results of the study are still a few years off, the information the scientists are mining could help explain why some people develop ADHD and others don't.

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