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Many parents diagnosed with ADHD wonder if they can pass the condition on to their children.

They fear their genetics will affect their child’s education and life outcomes.

Unfortunately, recent research suggests that parents with ADHD are likelier to have children with the condition. Worse still, most of the risk of developing ADHD appears to be genetic. The environment only plays a minor role.

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How do genetics and ADHD relate to each other?

The relationship between genetics and ADHD is complicated. Studies suggest 91% is due to heredity, but statistics don’t reveal the complete picture.

Russell Barkley, a clinical professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, reports that 25 to 45 genes control ADHD development. The role many of these genes play in the development of the condition is unclear. Most relate to dopamine signaling in the brain, which controls reward perceptions.

Dopamine controls several behaviors, emotions, and functions in the brain. The body uses the chemical to regulate unconscious processes (such as digestion) and pass information between neurons. It can also regulate mood, which may explain why ADHD symptoms develop.

Like other neurotransmitters, dopamine requires receptors to function. Unfortunately, the brains of ADHD parents may have fewer of these due to genetics, reducing dopamine sensitivity.

The absence of these receptors is problematic. Researchers associate low active dopamine levels with:

  • Motivational deficits (problems with getting things done)
  • Lack of intrinsic response to reward, such as eating good food or achieving an educational milestone
  • Inability to pay attention to one thing for an extended period
  • Unstable or irritable mood

Low receptor numbers do not usually result from environmental conditions. Consequently, the children of ADHD parents are more likely to experience ADHD symptoms, mainly if both partners carry the right genes.

Research is now uncovering the mechanism of why this happens. Scientists have found that specific genes impede the proper action of dopamine, but the picture is complicated. ADHD-prone people may experience dopamine deficits for several reasons, including:

  • An inability to form the normal number of dopamine receptors
  • An inability to metabolize dopamine effectively due to receptor defects
  • A lack of transporter proteins required to transport dopamine into brain cells

How to respond to a family history of ADHD

Genetic tests cannot tell you whether your family is prone to ADHD. That’s because researchers are still developing practical medical tests. Therefore, physicians, psychiatrists, and pediatricians diagnose children based on criteria in the DSM-5.

This section explores how to respond if your family has a history of ADHD. Studies suggest that 40 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD have at least one parent living with the condition.

Avoid feeling guilty

Just like height and eye color, you have almost no control over the development of ADHD in your child. If it is in your genetics, it will likely be in theirs, too.

If you are struggling, talk to a counselor or therapist. They can guide you on how to manage and deal with the condition.

Also, discuss ADHD with your child. Talk to them about why they behave the way they do and how ADHD affects you personally if you have the condition. Helping them to understand their experience can make it more manageable.

If you can, talk about ADHD neutrally, as if it is a fact of life. Introduce them to your treatment schedule and get them to do the same. Your child is more likely to accept medical intervention if you seek it first.

Show how to live with ADHD

You don’t want your child to live their life believing an ADHD diagnosis is something terrible. Instead, you should aim to show them what their life could be like if they manage the condition effectively. Parents with ADHD should aspire to be role models their kids can emulate.

Look out for symptoms

Short attention spans or inability to concentrate doesn’t necessarily mean your child has ADHD. However, you should take them to a specialist for a formal diagnosis if you notice a lack of focus. Getting help early reduces the risk of misdiagnosis and means you can start managing the condition from a young age.

Understand your strengths

An ADHD diagnosis might make it more challenging to run a family. However, it is not insurmountable.

Start by creating more structure in your family life and eliminate distractions. Reduce the number of screens in your home and eat meals at set times. Find out what you’re good at and use services to fill in where you struggle. Try to delegate tasks, such as keeping a schedule, to family members who do not have ADHD.

How to get the proper treatment for your child

ADHD treatment is typically multi-faceted. Therefore, you’ll need to work with a licensed professional, preferably a pediatrician, who understands all the approaches.

Lifestyle changes may help ADHD patients considerably. For instance, research shows exercise can increase dopamine levels significantly and change brain structure and function.

Parents and children with formal ADHD diagnoses should aim to get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise per day. Proper training can improve overall health and reduce or eliminate nighttime difficulties with sleep.

Pediatricians may also recommend medications. These make children’s brains more sensitive to dopamine, bypassing problems with receptors. Parents should consult with their physicians about the side effects of these drugs before agreeing to use them.

Behavioral therapy can also play a role. Therapists use this to help ADHD children and parents deal with the condition’s symptoms using evidence-based techniques. Sessions continue for around 10 to 12 weeks – long enough to change the brain’s structure.

Lastly, parents can help their children manage symptoms by changing their schooling and educational arrangements. They may thrive better in more structured, simpler environments.