Learn more about Attention Deficit Problems

Causes of Attention Deficit and Clinical ADD/ADHD

While not all of the causes of clinical ADD and ADHD are well understood, there is conclusive research proving that, in some cases, the spectrum of Attention Deficit behaviors occur due to the following reasons. Understanding to what degree Attention Deficit may be due to social, cultural, genetic, environmental or nutrition factors is important in determining the right course of treatment. For example, studies have shown that if a child has a family member diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, early intervention may be especially crucial in reducing the odds of their developing ADHD later on.

1.) Social factors: Poverty, lack of language spoken in the home, digital overload and lack of adequate time spent with caregivers, and living with non-biological caregivers are all associated with attention difficulties, learning difficulties that compound attention issues, and school failure. One study found that mothers who were intrusive, overstimulating, and isolated with fewer emotional supports were more likely to have hyperactive children between ages 3-8 years old. Asian immigrant families, who have a very low incidence of clinical ADD/ADHD have protective factors such as strong family values related to a love of learning, discipline and obedience to family. These family values seem to mitigate against the impact of risk factors, such as excessive media exposure.

2.) Cultural factors: Studies have shown that the more TV and media exposure one has, the lower their attention span, especially for young people whose brains are still developing. This has been highlighted by the virtual non-existence of clinical ADD/ADHD in populations like the Amish who do not watch TV or play video games. Misleading marketing from pharmaceutical companies has led to overdiagnosis of clinical ADD/ADHD and overmedication of people of all ages, especially of children as young as preschoolers. Many studies are finding that in the fast paced digital age we live in, adults attention spans are decreasing in general. The more distractions one has with their cell phone, computers, and social media, the harder it is to stay focused on a discrete task. This fast pace also increases the threshold for stimulation, thus making more mundane tasks in the classroom and at work boring for both children and adults.

3.) Genetics: Twin studies have shown that clinical ADD an ADHD runs in families and have found structural differences in the brains of some children with clinical ADD/ADHD. However, there has been significant backlash against this explanation for clinical ADD, especially since pharmaceutical companies have heavily funded studies emphasizing a biological component to ADD and there has been little to no funding for studies looking into social and cultural influences such as family environment.

4.) Environmental Toxins: such as lead and pesticide exposure – Researchers measured the levels of pesticide byproducts in the urine of 1,139 children from across the United States. Children with above-average levels of one common byproduct had roughly twice the odds of getting a diagnosis of ADHD, according to the study, which appears in the journal Pediatrics. Lead exposure and consumption lead contributed to Attention Deficit symptoms as well, so getting a blood test to measure lead and pesticide levels, especially if exposure is suspected, is a recommended first step for parents.

5.) Issues in utero: Exposure to cigarette smoke or alcohol during pregnancy and delivery complications, especially when the oxygen supply to the fetus or infant is compromised, have all been linked to clinical ADHD diagnoses.

6.) Poor nutrition: Food additives (such as food coloring and preservatives) have been linked to Attention Deficit While these are not usually the ONLY cause of Attention Deficit, the excitatory compounds in food additives exacerbate the inattentive and impulsive behaviors in all children, thus making the reduction of these an effective intervention.

7.) Compounding factors: People must have more than one risk factor to be at risk of developing a clinical disorder. Unfortunately, many causes of attention difficulties are clustered together. Those living in poverty often have inadequate nutrition, exposure to environmental toxins, more overcrowded classrooms, fewer job opportunities and less time for families to spend together when one or both parents are working. Excessive media and junk food as a combination also contribute to lowered attention span, and usually correlate with lack of exercise and outdoor time which are protective factors against attention issues.

Next Section12 Ways to Reduce Attention Deficit Problems

  1. I enjoyed reading this, thank you.

    There is another important differential diagnosis well worth mentioning. Symptoms resulting from traumatic experiences can overlap with ADHD symptoms. Point being, trauma may be an underlying cause of symptoms and should be assessed – this could change the treatment approach considerably. To learn more, check out the following: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23561240

    … and for a list of symptoms common to both PTSD and ADHD, please see:
    http://untappedbrilliance.com/ptsd-vs-adhd/

    Also, if you want to learn more deeply about ADHD, I recommend the book “Scattered: how ADHD originates and what you can do about it” by Gabor Mate. This book is informed by years of personal and clinical experience, and provides some of the best explanations I have found for explaining how the “disorder” works.

    I am hopeful that ADHD treatment is advancing in a positive direction. Certainly I have seen that stimulant meds can help, but personally I am interested in incorporating non-pharmaceutical treatment approaches such as meditation and nature time.

    Do others have thoughts/opinions/experiences on the topic?

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