For most people, ADHD is hereditary: we now know that ADHD is about as heritable as height. Although a number of genes have been identified (e.g. the dopamine transporter gene, DAT1, on chromosome 5), we haven't yet identified all of them nor do we know how they work together to "cause" ADHD. Early life events (such as smoking or drinking during pregnancy, very premature birth, toxic lead levels, or even brain injury) can also contribute to about 20% of all ADHD. Interestingly some researchers now think that many of these early life events may be linked to parental ADHD, and so genetics may still contribute to some of that 20%.
We do know, without question, that ADHD is not caused by "bad" parenting or "bad" teachers, nor is it caused by sugar, TV or computer games. Poor diet can make symptoms worse although it will not cause ADHD. There is some evidence to suggest food intolerances may cause ADHD-like symptoms in some people. If verified, this research simply means those few people had similar symptoms to ADHD; it does not mean that they had ADHD, nor that it was caused by their diet.
This is an important point: There are a lot of things that can look like ADHD: dietary problems, sleep issues, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, thyroid problems, lead poisoning, and more. And, of course, ADHD can look like any of those things. This is why clinicians always recommend a thorough assessment by an experienced professional before diagnosing ADHD.
In short, for most people ADHD is genetic. However the genetics are complex and environmental factors — such as diet, parenting, exercise, schooling and use of electronic devices — can all impact how ADHD is expressed, experienced and managed. A thorough assessment considers all these, along with alternate explanations for the symptoms, in order to make a diagnosis and recommend helpful strategies for managing the condition.
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