Can You Prevent Your Child From Developing ADHD?

Inheriting the genes that predispose a person toward attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) doesn't guarantee getting it. Here's what you can do.

Help Explaining an ADD/ADHD Diagnosis to Your Child

It is not ADD that is inherited, but rather the predisposition toward developing it.

Dr. Edward Hallowell, co-author of "Driven to Distraction"

We don't usually think of attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) as a preventable condition. There are a great many books and articles - some of them by me - on how to deal with ADD if you have it, but not much has been written by researchers or clinicians about how to prevent it in the first place.

This is probably because we don't know much about what causes ADD. How do you stop what you can't see coming?

We do, however, know enough about ADD to offer science-based suggestions that can help reduce the likelihood of someone developing this condition.

The first thing you can do is pick your life partner thoughtfully. Since ADD is highly heritable, don't have children with someone who has it. Though not a foolproof strategy, this will reduce the likelihood of your child having ADD. My feelings on this: It would be a mistake to refrain from having a child for this reason. After all, ADD is treatable and manageable, and it usually confers advantages, such as heightened creativity and intuition.

During pregnancy, don't indulge in alcohol, cigarettes, or illicit drugs, or mistreat yourself or your unborn child in any other way. And get good prenatal care. Poor health care during pregnancy brings the risk of developing ADD.

Make sure you have excellent medical care during the delivery of your baby. Lack of oxygen at birth, trauma during birth, and infections acquired during delivery can cause ADD.

Once you give birth or bring home your adopted child, rejoice. The exciting and momentous journey of parenthood begins. That being said, your enchanting infant requires a lot of work. You may be sleep- and time-deprived, and tempted to plant your baby in front of the TV or VCR to keep him occupied. But don't. Studies have shown that infants and toddlers who watch more than two hours of television a day are more like to develop ADD than other children.

As your child gets older, it's just as important to control the amount of "electronic time" per day, including time spent with TV, CD-ROMs, video games, and such. Too much can predispose to ADD. The appropriate time allotment varies from child to child, depending on how much schoolwork is done on the computer, but a good rule of thumb for this kind of inactive electronic entertainment is no more than an hour a day.

As you turn off the TV, turn on human interaction. Social connectedness bolsters the skills that minimize ADD's impact. So have family meals often, read aloud together, play board games, go outside and shoot hoops or throw a Frisbee - play, play, play. Also make sure that your child's school is friendly and encourages social interaction.

These are practical measures that can help reduce the likelihood of a child's developing ADD. Remember, too, that inheriting the genes that predispose toward this condition doesn't guarantee getting it. It is not ADD that is inherited, but rather the predisposition toward developing it. Simply by reducing your child's electronic time while increasing interpersonal time, you reduce the likelihood that the genes for ADD will be expressed as he grows older - even if they were inherited.

A final note: You may not be able to prevent your child from developing ADD, and that's just fine. I have ADD, and two of my three kids have it as well. With proper interventions, ADD need not be a liability. In fact, it can be a tremendous asset. While a person can learn the skills to compensate for its downside, no one can learn the gifts that so often accompany ADD: creativity, warmth, sharp intuitive skills, high energy, originality, and a "special something" that defies description.

 

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