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Causes of ADHD

Because attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms—inattention, impulsivity, and/or hyperactivity—affect a child's ability to learn and get along with others, some people think an ADHD child's behavior is caused by a lack of discipline, a chaotic family life, or even too much TV.

 

In fact, research suggests that ADHD is largely a genetic disorder.

However, some environmental factors may play a role as well. Here, we separate fact from fiction about the causes of ADHD.

Pesticides

Research does suggest a possible link between ADHD and pesticides.

A 2010 study in Pediatrics found that children with higher urine levels of organophosphate, a pesticide used on produce, had higher ADHD rates. Another 2010 study showed that women with higher urine levels of organophosphate were more likely to have a child with ADHD.

 

Smoking, drinking in pregnancy

Fetal exposure to alcohol and tobacco is thought to play a role in ADHD. Children exposed to tobacco smoke prenatally are 2.4 times as likely to have ADHD as those who are not, research suggests.

 

Lead exposure

Lead, a neurotoxin, has been removed from most homes and schools, but traces of it are still everywhere. A 2009 study found that children with ADHD tend to have higher blood-lead levels than other kids.

 

Food additives

Many European countries have banned certain preservatives after research linked hyperactivity in young children to food with mixtures of some artificial food colors and the preservative, sodium benzoate.

The FDA says food additives are safe when used "properly," and most additives aren't required to be clearly labeled on packaging. Experts think only a small number of children will benefit from avoiding brightly colored processed foods, which tend to have more additives.

 

 

Sugar

Parents often blame sugar for a child's hyperactive behavior, but it's time to stop.

A study in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology found that mothers who thought their children were given sugar rated their children's behavior as more hyperactive than mothers who were told their children were given a sugar substitute—regardless of whether their children actually consumed real sugar.

Limit sugar if you're concerned about calorie consumption or dental cavities, not because of ADHD.

 

TV or video games

There's no proof that too much TV or video-game time causes ADHD, although research has found that school- and college-age students who spent more time in front of a screen had more attention problems than those who did not.

 

Bad parenting

ADHD symptoms can be confused with rebellious or bad behavior, so it's not uncommon to try to blame the parents for a child's conduct. But according to the National Resource Center on ADHD, there's no strong evidence that parenting style contributes to ADHD.

On the other hand, a stressful home environment or parents who refuse to accept ADHD as a diagnosed condition can make the symptoms worse.

 

Brain injury

Brain injury that results from a serious blow to the head, a brain tumor, a stroke, or disease can cause problems with inattention and poor regulation of motor activity and impulses.

Children who have suffered certain types of brain trauma may show symptoms similar to ADHD. But because only a small portion of children with ADHD have suffered a traumatic brain injury, it's not considered a major risk factor.

 

Diet

Although it was once popularly believed that food allergies or sensitivities cause ADHD, the research so far has been unable to support the idea that diet plays a significant role in ADHD.

Still, certain dietary components may affect behavior, and a recent Australian study suggested that adolescents with diets high in fat, refined sugar, and sodium were two times as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD as other kids. Additional studies have also linked diets deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for brain development and function, to ADHD symptoms.

 

Genes

The evidence strongly suggests that ADHD is passed down from parents, not parenting style.

In fact, a child with ADHD is four times as likely to have had a relative who was also diagnosed with ADHD, and results from studies of multiple twins indicate that ADHD often runs in families.

Ongoing research is looking to pinpoint the genes responsible for ADHD.

 

Overdiagnosis

Because there's no objective ADHD test, parents, doctors, and educators continue to debate over whether ADHD is overdiagnosed.

Some say doctors are too quick to diagnose a child's behavioral problems as ADHD without considering other possible causes.

 

Chemical exposure

While smoking, alcohol, and pesticides may be a problem, researchers are looking at other toxins too.

But as with many factors, the evidence only points to a correlation and can't prove that these c hemicals contribute to ADHD.

 

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