When ADHD Runs In The Family


when ADHD runs in the family

For almost a year now I have been airing my family’s dirty laundry on here, basically advertising to the world that my whole darn family has ADHD.

I have it.  My younger brother has it.  I am 90% sure my son has it.  At least one of my uncles has it.  You get the picture…..

We have the genetic markers for ADHD.  But really, it’s not the end of the world.  It’s just annoying.  Life is hard enough without piling on the issues that go with having ADHD.  What are those issues, you ask?

Allow me to elaborate.

First, I want to point out that ADHD is a brain based condition.  This is a neurological condition that affects our executive functioning, our ability to maintain jobs and relationships and sometimes, our ability to regulate our emotions.

Making these realizations about myself and my lineage I decided to do my nerdy research thing and educate myself on the science of inheritance and ADHD.

when adhd runs in the family

the basics of genetics

This article from ADDitude has an awesome little glossary on the side that I will screen capture for you here:

According to the article there is “suggestive evidence for linkage on several human chromosomes. Linkage is the inheritance of 2 or more genes in the same region on a chromosome.”

Additionally, “if a gene is linked to another marker gene on a chromosome, if they are so close together they are almost always inherited together.”

In other words, ADHD is probably produced not just by one gene, but by a series of genes that are “linked”.  In my family about half of us have inherited this conglomeration of genes or links.

I have no proof of this, but I can guesstimate that if my husband and I had decided to have another child, that child would have had about a 50% chance of having symptoms of ADHD.  Since my first child has it. (We think.)

We should totally be in a study around here.

So what is ADHD Anyway? And what does it mean to have it?

I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. ADD/ADHD is everywhere.

Most adults have some traits that could be considered symptoms.

ADHD is so common that it has become a bit of a tag-line, -“sorry, it was my adhd.”  I hear things like that all the time.  When you actually have the disease this is annoying.

ADHD is a neurobiological disorder

According to dictionary.com neurobiology is the study of the anatomy, physiology and biochemistry of the nervous system.

So the brain and nerves. What I take this to mean is that the brain of people with ADHD is actually different from the brain of a person without the disorder.

If you are interested in how women in particular are affected by ADHD check out the work of Terry Matlen. I reviewed her book in a different post. This book is worth reading, Terry totally gets us!

There are different types of ADHD. For the purposes of this blog I will stick with the major ones.

Hyperactive-Impulsive presentation

This is the type that people picture little kids having when they are running around driving their teachers, caregivers, parents and the general public crazy. Children with the diagnosis move at a pace that can be startling.

In adults, this can show itself in risk-taking behaviors and dangerous or impulsive decisions.

The thing that I always notice in this type of person is how it manifests itself physically. Even as adults there is restlessness to these individuals, a need to physically move and release some of that brain activity. I am very familiar with this, as it runs in my family.

My baby brother has this type of ADHD. He scared sooo many babysitters away when we were kids.

We have stories about him terrorizing the neighborhood and his preschool. Some of the stories are hilarious, others not so much.

Symptoms include:

  • The inability to sit still
  • Nervous habits such as toe tapping, pencil tapping, nail biting
  • No sense of danger or fear
  • Angry outbursts
  • A sharp tongue – verbal meanness
  • Physical aggression
  • Easily Frustrated
  • Disorganized and/or issues with clutter
  • Sensitive to criticism
  • Prone to depression/anxiety

Inattentive presentation

This was me as a kid. If I am honest with myself… this is me now. I was never a discipline issue. The inattentive type rarely draws attention; they often go completely unnoticed in a group.

In class I could make eye contact with a teacher without hearing a word that was said.

Even now, I struggle with sustaining attention and following a long list of directions. I also struggle with sequential processing and thinking through large projects.

In school this meant following the steps to do a complicated algebra equation was virtually impossible. Keeping my clothes folded and organized in my room was also impossible.

But because I didn’t get in trouble in school, not many people noticed my issues.

Symptoms include:

  • General inattentiveness/sometimes described as “spacey”
  • Poor recall of conversations and instructions
  • Trouble maintaining a schedule or calendar
  • Forgetful – prone to missing appointments/due dates
  • Disorganization and/or issues with clutter
  • Easily frustrated
  • Inability to prioritize or delegate as needed
  • Sensitive to criticism
  • Prone to depression/anxiety

Combined Hyperactive-Impulsive and Inattentive presentation

This third type is a bit obvious.

Most people with ADD/ADHD show symptoms of both of the major types at one time or another.

I never kicked anyone on the playground, but I did get in trouble for talking in class. I was not physically hyperactive, but I certainly displayed a few traits that you could label that way.

As an adult I have a modicum of perspective, and in some ways I have more control over my symptoms.

I have developed some routines and systems to keep me on track at work and at home.  But the forgetfulness, the racing thoughts…they never go away.

Proper Diagnosis

A licensed psychologist diagnosed me. ADHD is not something you can diagnose on the Internet. You need appropriate testing to determine if you are living with ADHD.

The CDC website explains, The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth edition (DSM-5)1, is used by mental health professionals to help diagnose ADHD.

Here is a snippet from the DSM:

  • Inattention: Six or more symptoms of inattention for children up to age 16, or five or more for adolescents 17 and older and adults; symptoms of inattention have been present for at least 6 months, and they are inappropriate for developmental level:
    • Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or with other activities.
    • Often has trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities.
    • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
    • Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (e.g., loses focus, side-tracked).
    • Often has trouble organizing tasks and activities.
    • Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework).
    • Often loses things necessary for tasks and activities (e.g. school materials, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, mobile telephones).
    • Is often easily distracted
    • Is often forgetful in daily activities

Finally, only a licensed therapist can take the medical evidence along with the anecdotal evidence you provide and tell you if you are living with ADHD.

If you have additional questions there are a number of websites where you can get referrals to doctors, counselors and even coaches. This diagnosis is not the end of your life.

When it comes to managing your ADHD, knowledge really is power.

Here is a pic of my baby brother on his wedding day. I told him, “I give your kids good odds, I mean your wife’s family is perfect, right?”  He just rolled his eyes at me.  And then made me promise NOT to medicate my son.

My baby brother on his wedding day! Living the ADHD life.

My baby brother on his wedding day – Living the ADHD life.

My brother and his wife will figure it out.  And so will you.

How do you feel about ADHD as an inherited condition?

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Works Cited

“10 Adult ADHD Symptoms: Disorganization, Recklessness, and More.” WebMD.WebMD, n.d. Web. 31 May 2015.

“Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).” NIMH RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 May 2015.

“Symptoms and Diagnosis.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 Sept. 2014. Web. 31 May 2015.