Question: My ex-husband, and father to our 11-year-old son, insists that our son’s ADHD is my fault, a result of my parenting style. He has an authoritarian parenting style, while I strive to be more authoritative. My son’s counselor is confident of his ADHD diagnosis and says that ADHD isn’t anyone’s fault, but I still can’t help but question if this is something I’ve caused. Can ADHD can be caused by the way someone parents?

Answer: Parenting, whether it’s poor or optimal, cannot and does not cause ADHD. ADHD is a neurobiological, neurodevelopment disorder that is present from birth and manifests in different ways across the lifespan. While trauma or parenting can modify a child’s symptom presentation and coping in some ways, neither plays a causative role in ADHD.

Imaging studies show differences in the structure and activity between brains of people with ADHD and those without. In people with ADHD, there is a consistent pattern of below-normal activity in the neurotransmission of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain’s prefrontal cortex. As a result of the lower levels of dopamine, there is understimulation in the reward and motivation centers in the brain. The prefrontal cortex is found to be thinner and matures more slowly than non-ADHD brains. Please know, this does not imply any deficit in intelligence or in the ability to succeed.

An accurate diagnosis of ADHD should include:

  • an in-depth clinical history of both the child and the family
  • a physical exam to help rule out other possible causes of symptoms
  • a clinical assessment using standardized behavior rating scales or questionnaires
  • an evaluation of the child’s intelligence, aptitude, personality traits, and/or processing skills

A complete neuropsychological evaluation or educational exam is not always necessary, though if there are any concerns about learning or processing, full testing is generally recommended.

My point in relaying this information is to assure you, parents don’t cause ADHD, and parenting, regardless of your style, doesn’t cause ADHD. If your son has ADHD, he’s had it since he was born, it just may not have manifested in symptoms one may have seen until more recently because ADHD manifests differently across the lifespan and can look different from individual to individual. No worries, you didn’t cause your son’s ADHD.

Question: How do I get my child with ADHD to stop repeating behavior he CONTINUOUSLY gets in trouble for day after day? It’s exhausting. How many more times do I have to repeat the same thing? How many times do I have to discipline him for the same behavior? I put him in time out, I take things away from him. Nothing seems to make him stop just doing the same behavior all over again.

Answer: Kids with ADHD also have executive function deficits, which can contribute to children acting out more from their emotions, not logic or reasoning. Often we can tell them time after time after time, and even give them consequences for their misbehavior, but because they’re operating so much from their emotional brain, it doesn’t always click the first time (or the fiftieth). They struggle with decision making and always making better choices because of the deficits in executive functioning, which are housed in the thinking brain (the prefrontal cortex, which doesn’t fully mature until we’re in our mid-20s anyway). Remain consistent and firm. It may take multiple repeating before they get it. Also, try to wait to process feelings and the behavior or offer any logical reasoning to your child until he is calm and not totally thinking from his emotional brain. People cannot fully comprehend logical reasoning until they’re able to use their thinking brain too. Things said while they’re still in their emotional brain will most often go unheard, ADHD or no ADHD.

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