First direct evidence that ADHD is a genetic disorder: Children with ADHD more likely to have missing or duplicated segments of DNA

ScienceDaily (2010-09-30) -- New research provides the first direct evidence that attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a genetic condition. Scientists in the UK found that children with ADHD were more likely to have small segments of their DNA duplicated or missing than other children.

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I am still amazed that I hear people say, "So called" ADHD. And teachers who doubt it is a real disorder, or the general public who assumes people with ADHD are either stupid, lazy or somehow immoral. amazed, but not surprised.

The evidence of this disorder, in it's various incarnations (inattentive vs hyperactive type) is overwhelming. And the science is there to prove it. Again, I urge anyone who has doubt to visit Dr. Russell Barkley's web page (click here).

This study, however, is something new. Researchers found overlaps in the DNA segments, that is, children with a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) were found to have small segments of their DNA that "overlapped" or were duplicated. These are called "copy number variants (CNVs) and this kind of genetic problem is being seen with many disorders including autism, mood disorders and schizophrenia. ADHD is one of the most common problems found in children, it is highly heritable, is found to be a strong component in twin studies, But until now we have not been able to see the actual genetic material that might be at the source of this issue.

A team at Cardiff University analysed the genomes of 366 children who were diagnosed with ADHD and compared them to 1000 children who were not diagnosed. They found these rare CNVs were more than twice as likely to be found in children diagnosed with ADHD. The chances were even higher for children with co-morbid learning disorders. ADHD, however, is not necessarily the result of a singe genetic change, it is most likely the result of multiple causes. Screening for these CNVs will not help diagnose a child, as it appears that it is the number of repetitions of the gene produced, in combination with other conditions, that cause the disorder.

Research is clear that there are multiple causes of ADHD, that it is a real disorder, and that there is little we can do to cure ADHD ....but we can treat the child, make environmental changes and teach appropriate coping skills to help overcome many negative effects of the disorder. Promises of cures by diet, which assumes diet is a major cause (there are no scientific studies backing this theory) are a waste, as are chiropractic manipulation, neurotherapy and similar "natural" treatments. For more information go to Dr. Barkley's web page.

The best advice is to get a complete assessment so that you know exactly how this disorder is affecting you or your child. This usually consists of a comprehensive history, a clinical interview, cognitive and neuropsychological tests. And find a professional who also has experience working in the environment when the changes need to take place, for children that means someone who has worked in the schools and understands the school system and the issues confronting children. For adults that means someone with several years of clinical experience with adults with ADHD- but also someone with experience working with children and developmental issues.

My web page lists a number of resources you can make use of yourself. Please visit it at or one of my other sites at either Psychology Today, AAMFT, PSYRIS or my professional site. Assessment and treatment services are offered for individuals, couples, families, children and adolescents in the Burnaby, Vancouver, Coquitlam, Port Moody, New Westminster and Maple Ridge areas of the lower mainland.

Dr. Jim Roche