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Parents with ADHD

August 15th 2005

Parents with ADHD usually genetic causes

Left Images is Adult with ADD

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD) is a lifelong, genetic disorder. (Barkley 2002) Parents of children who have been diagnosed should be screened for AD/HD. Adults with this disorder often experience difficulties in relationships, on the job and in other life areas. The problems of raising a child with special needs are exacerbated by undiagnosed AD/HD in one or both of the parents. Fortunately, the majority of adults respond well to treatment.

It is estimated that between 1% and 6% of the adult population has AD/HD. (Wender) Forty percent of children who have AD/HD have at least one parent who also meets the criteria for diagnosis. (Zeigler) AD/HD affects up to 7.5% of school-aged children, or between one to three students in every classroom. (Barbaresi, et al) For various reasons, AD/HD in adults often goes undiagnosed. Thus, these parents are trying to carry out adult responsibilities without the benefit of appropriate treatment for their own AD/HD. Undiagnosed AD/HD in parents affects the entire family. These adults typically exhibit emotional labiality and tend to have higher rates of depression, substance abuse disorders, and other co-morbidities.


Adults with AD/HD are less likely to graduate from college and even less likely to obtain advanced educational degrees. Like most adults with AD/HD, these parents face uncertain career prospects. Although they may be intelligent and enthusiastic workers, they often have difficulties keeping a job. (Pary) Social skills deficits are common among this population. AD/HD can interfere with the ability to establish and maintain close relationships and may contribute to an unstable home environment.

Parents of a child who has AD/HD are three times as likely to separate or divorce as parents of non-AD/HD children. (Barkley 1995) Simply put, the parent may not have the emotional tools needed to effectively support the special needs of the AD/HD child. Parents who do not have AD/HD report that these children are often far more challenging to parent than their non-AD/HD siblings. The adult with AD/HD faces the already formidable task of raising a difficult child while at the same time trying to cope as best they can with their own AD/HD. If the parents' own AD/HD issues are not addressed, these adults can have tremendous difficulties fulfilling their roles as parents.

Evaluating the Parent
Parents may be unaware that they exhibit behaviors that would indicate the presence of AD/HD. Furthermore, AD/HD has been long considered a childhood disorder. It was not until the mid-1980's that researchers began to acknowledge that AD/HD indeed lasted into adulthood. Parents may be under that mistaken belief that they outgrew their AD/HD while in fact it continues to affect their life. When treating a child who has AD/HD, the physician should discuss with the parent the genetics of AD/HD and inquire if a parent might be struggling with symptoms too. Physicians (i.e. pediatricians) who are uncomfortable or unable to evaluate the adult should then refer parents to another health care provider for an AD/HD evaluation. Should the parent show resistance to the idea, the physician might discuss the difficulties of raising an AD/HD child if ones own AD/HD is not addressed and treated. One or both of the parents may indicate that they faced many of the same problems when they were a child. The parent may recall that school was difficult, although he or she had the intellectual capabilities to do well. There may be family stories of hyperactivity or behavioral problems during the parent's childhood.

Mothers or fathers may see in the opposite sex parent many of the same behaviors now being exhibited by their child. Often is the case when one parent will turn to the other and say, "I know where it comes from. You're the exact same way!" Physicians may want to ask about the behaviors of other family members as well, to better ascertain the possibility of undiagnosed AD/HD in the family. These kinds of questions can bring up a plethora of information pointing to the possibility that the parent, too, might have the disorder.


Research on AD/HD and behavioral disorders is fairly recent and may not have been attributed to AD/HD when the parent was a child. The astute physician will take a patient history by posing questions in terms of behavior and not necessarily in terms of any specific diagnosis. How does this affect the physician's role in evaluating and treating their young patients? Treating the parent is an important part of improving the quality of life for the child. One can see that an impulsive, distracted parent might have problems remembering to give a youngster his/her medication. Adults with AD/HD tend to be disorganized and often have difficulty maintaining a home. These adults have trouble keeping appointments, getting the child ready and off to school in time, and performing other basic parenting duties.

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By Terry Matlen MSW, ACSW
Terry is a psychotherapist and consultant in Birmingham, Michigan specializing in AD/HD in adults. She is the author of "Survival Tips for Women with AD/HD".

Terry is the director of www.addconsults.com, an online AD/HD eClinic and www.myADDstore.com . She serves on the board of directors of the Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA).  A popular presenter at local and national conferences, Terry has a passion for raising awareness of the special challenges for women with AD/HD and the unique issues parents face when both they and their children have AD/HD.

She can be reached via her website at ww

E-mail Terry

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Keywords and misspellings:  ADD ADHD AD-HD hyperactivity simptoms

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Copyright 2005 Best Syndication                                            Last Updated Saturday, July 10, 2010 09:46 PM