ADD in the Family

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The other day on Facebook, I asked my friends for some ideas of what to write about in this blog. If you’ve got ideas, please leave a comment and let me know. It’s hard thinking up what to write every day!

I got a lot of good ideas, including this one from Tamara Clay Wilson:

Does it run in the family? How can you tell if a smaller sibling has it or if it is just learned behavior from an only sibling that has it.

Excellent question, Tamara!

First of all, yes, ADHD does run in the family. Most scientists agree that if a parent has ADHD, there is a good likelihood that at least one child will have ADHD. I can’t tell you what the odds are – I’d have to ask my daughter Caitlin, who knows a lot about genetics and could probably give me an answer, but she’s not home right now.

Caitlin also tells me that certain other things occur on the same strand of DNA as ADHD, including autism, alcoholism or substance abuse problems, and depression.

Substance abuse and depression are called co-morbidities; that means that they occur along with ADHD. Attention Deficit Disorder never comes alone; it always brings a friend or two.

In my family, I have ADHD and so does my husband. I would guess that’s how we ended up with 3 children who have it. And yes, there have been numerous diagnoses over the years to confirm that.

I have a strong suspicion that my mother had ADHD although she was never diagnosed. It just wasn’t on the radar then. Also, while I would not call my dad an alcoholic, he did tend to overindulge more than most when he was younger. He’s been sober for longer than I’ve been alive, so I don’t tend to think of him as a drinker.

As to the second part of the question – whether a younger sibling can also have it or if it is a learned behavior – I would say that depends.

Frankly, the likelihood of a younger child imitating an older sibling’s behavior on a consistent basis seems slim. Of course they are going to learn a lot from their siblings, and if they see them doing something that works, they’re going to do it too. But to keep that kind of copycat behavior up on a regular basis doesn’t seem plausible.

I had a friend with 4 children; when the second oldest was diagnosed with ADHD and treated with medication, there was a marked difference in his behavior. What also became apparent as his behavior was brought under control was that his brother was ADHD too. The younger brother’s ADHD tendencies had been overshadowed by his older brother’s more extreme behavior.

Now I am not saying that the younger child that Tamara asks about has ADHD; there are more things to take into consideration.

The most important thing is the age of the child. Although I see it done all the time, medical guidelines for diagnosing ADHD say that the child must be at least 7 years old.

I recognized something different about my son Andy when he was about a year and a half old. With a lot of research (on my own) I determined that he had ADHD but I didn’t take him for an evaluation until he was 10 or 11 because it wasn’t affecting his life, and truthfully, I was waiting for someone “official” like a teacher to bring it up.

When people tell me that their 3 or 4 year old is high energy and can’t keep still, I usually think, “Of course not. They’re 3.”. There are however, some times, like with my son Andy when you know something is there.

I would also say that you should evaluate the child’s behavior over time and in different situations and locations – and without the other sibling around. If the same behavior happens again and again, that’s a good clue.

And finally, rely on the best source you have – your instincts. Mothers know their children better than anyone else; when your mommy sense alarms, better check into it.

Lacy Estelle

Lacy Estelle

Lacy Estelle is the writer of and the Podcast host for An ADD Woman.

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