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.
The exact causes of ADHD are not known with certainty.
Experts do know that ADHD has a strong genetic component. In addition, they think that genes that control the levels of certain chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters seem to be different in those with ADHD.
In some cases, though, there is no genetic link to ADHD, but other common behaviors, such as smoking or drinking during pregnancy, as well as other obstetrical complications have been linked to ADHD in children.
Babies with low...
"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
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.