Thursday, 30 September 2010

The genetics of ADHD - my views on the study debated today

 I have listened to this debate all day and quite frankly am totally mystified as to how two so called "experts" feel mudslinging is going to assist in the worthwhile investigation into the causes of ADHD. Jeremy Vine on BBC2 was in his element egging on the Ritalin-bashing extremists, allowing clinical psychologist Oliver James free rein to get on his soap box - which he leapt on and duly blamed all parents of children with ADHD as being dysfunctional with poor parenting skills.

Frankly I take offence at that and invite Oliver James to come and visit our family and a few others I know who are equally furious at his assertions. 

So what is all the fuss about? Well, apparently the "first direct evidence of a genetic link to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder has been found, a study says." Scientists from Cardiff University, writing in The Lancet, said the disorder was a brain problem like autism - not due to bad parenting. They analysed stretches of DNA from 366 children who had been diagnosed with the disorder.But other experts argued ADHD was caused by a mixture of genetic and environmental factors. (Oliver James the most vehement critic.)

Unfortunately, the PR team given the task of publicising said study took a leaf out of Alistair Campbell's book and produced a report the King of Spin himself would have been proud of, neglecting to focus on the key point the research did demonstrate. Whilst there are bound to be crossovers with so many other co-morbid conditions the fact remains that a genetic link appears to be there, at least in some children with ADHD. Given that there are also several types of ADHD (ask my son, he'll list them for you) I do think this is significant, and it's a start. Not an end point and yes there are flaws but a valuable contribution to ADHD research. I don't think anyone is saying ADHD is only ever genetically caused but let's give the study credit where due and give parents a break.

Any parent with a child with an ADHD diagnosis, particularly if they have other non-ADHD children, is likely to tell you it is a combination of nurture and nature. To my mind there is absolutely no doubting the genetic link, ADHD runs in multi-class, fully functional families I know and pursuing accusations of bad parenting do an incredible disservice to the hard work of bringing up a child with ADHD. Imagine a child waking screaming and shouting every morning at 6am, threatening siblings, running away, self-harming, and frequently excluded from school - the parent of that child has to work 24/7 parenting and protecting the rest of the family in extreme circumstances. Apportioning blame is disrespectful and insulting. If you haven't been there you have NO idea.

Oh, and my other three exhibit no such behaviours, all parented the same way, and actually the child with ADHD had the calmest pregnancy of the lot. Without Ritalin he would have been permanently excluded by the age of 6 and would be uncontrollable. More importantly he LIKES taking it as he can concentrate, learn at school and feels better about himself as a result. He is happy, manageable and has friends. No parent likes giving their child medication and in all cases you have to weigh up the pros and cons but persisting in stigmatising children with ADHD and their families helps no-one. Time to stop Ritalin-bashing, support parents and fund decent research.
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