The true causes of ADHD - and the false ones

The true roots of ADHD remained a source of popular misconception for decades. A brain infection or blow to the head was once believed to cause its symptoms. Later, it was blamed on artificial sugars and other sweeteners found in commercially produced food. Fortunately more recent research has allayed parents' guilt by debunking either theory as the actual cause.

Instead, studies show the same factors that place children in a high-risk category for ADHD are activities their mothers are already encouraged to avoid. In particular, smoking while pregnant greatly increases the chances for ADHD. Drinking alcohol and abusing other narcotic substances also places children at risk.

Lead poisoning is also a proven factor. While the use of lead in paint and other materials was banned by the U.S. government decades ago, children living in older buildings may still come into contact with lead pipes or lead-based paint.

The effectiveness and controversy of ADHD medications

Several forms and brand of prescription medication used to treat ADHD are available, though some work better for some patients than for others. In beginning a treatment regimen, doctors will sometimes test different medications and adjust their dosages, to see which works best for the individual patient. Doses are given anywhere from once to three or four times per day.

ADHD medications are most commonly stimulants such as the drug methylphenidate, marketed in the U.S. as Ritalin and Concerta, among others. Another popular drug, Adderall, is a brand of amphetamine. Side effects to methylphenidate include insomnia, irritability, and loss of appetite. Some children reported feeling "keyed up," though in any event the side effects were not long lasting and occurred in only a small number of users.

Nevertheless, a study conducted in relation to the National Institute of Mental Health's ongoing Multimodal Treatment Study of Children with ADHD calls into question the medications' long-term effectives. The study showed that the drugs are no more effective after just three years than therapy alone.

Fighting ADHD with therapy

Doctors and psychiatrists urge families to use therapy and lifestyle management techniques to help their child fight ADHD's effects. In particular, parents are advised to:
- Create a daily routine for their children to follow
- Keep the child's choices simple and straightforward (what to wear, have for dinner, etc.)
- Limit use of televisions, computers, and video games
- Offer rewards for good behavior
- Discipline consistently
- Communicate clearly and directly

Families can also enroll their child in group and individual therapy sessions and take seminars and classes in adjusting their parenting skills to the needs of an ADHD child.

Many other behavioral disorders are linked to ADHD.

Statistics show between twenty and thirty percent of children diagnosed with ADHD also struggle with some other form of learning disability, including dyslexia. Other disorders linked with ADHD include:

- Oppositional Defiance Disorder: the child (usually male) is defiant of authority and frequently belligerent. ODD affects as many as half of all ADHD patients.
- Conduct Disorder: a more extreme form of ODD, CD children are openly violent and aggressive. Many commit crimes including theft and vandalism. Up to forty percent of ADHD children will be diagnosed with CD.
- Tourette Syndrome
- Anxiety and Depression
- Bipolar Disorder

How to get help

Parents concerned their child is showing ADHD symptoms should contact a doctor, psychologist, or child psychiatrist for a thorough work up and examination. Many such professionals are highly trained in recognizing ADHD symptoms. Clinical social workers and neurologists can also qualified to make a correct diagnosis.