How a parent’s ADHD diagnosis can help their ADHD child’s treatment outcomes
Much of the success of the treatment outcomes for ADHD-diagnosed children depends on the commitment of their parents. For some parents, though, the demands of responsibilities can be completely overwhelming, as they struggle with organisational skills, keeping up with their children’s schedules, or creating a calm home environment. ADHD is, of course, highly familial, and US-based research shows that 40% of ADHD children have at least one parent with clinical ADHD symptoms, which heavily influences their “parental commitment”*. It also influences family functioning, parenting, and the quality of life of their children.
ADHD and genetics
ADHD is hereditary, frequently affecting both children and parents. Last year (2021), a meta-analysis published in the Journal of Attention Disorders assessing the risk of offspring of ADHD parents, showed that the overall high-risk prevalence ranged from 40% to 57%, significantly higher than the control groups of non-high-risk children, where the prevalence of ADHD ranged from 2% to 20%. They documented that children with a father with ADHD were 2.67 times more likely to develop ADHD than children whose fathers did not have ADHD. Researchers also found that 9.3% of first-born children of ADHD mothers met the criteria for ADHD in comparison to 2% of controls. High-risk families were also more likely to have two children with ADHD. In addition, a 2011 UK-based study published in Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences found that symptoms of ADHD were more common in those with four or more children.
The bright side
At the outset, having two or more members with ADHD can make for intense family dynamics, however, getting a diagnosis can be liberating for parents: the self-awareness that comes when they realise that their lack of executive function skills, for instance, is related to their condition, helps reduce the guilt and stress they may be experiencing. Furthermore, getting treatment will improve the parent’s parenting skills and treatment outcomes for the child.
When parents get treatment for their own ADHD
Once the parent undergoes treatment, research shows that:
• Parent-child interactions are more positive. A study published in Development and Psychopathology, found that while ADHD symptoms in children were linked to more negative emotions expressed by their mothers. Moms who shared their children’s symptoms were much more affectionate and compassionate.
• The parent’s behaviour management skills improve now that they are able to deal with their kids calmly.
• Executive function skills improve, which assists with organisational skills, i.e. managing medication, making appointments, keeping up with schedules.
When parental ADHD goes unaddressed
If, however, their ADHD symptoms are left unaddressed, they could be dealing with the following parental challenges:
• Organisational difficulties – managing schedules, keeping track of the child’s needs, running a calm household, missed deadlines, general mishaps
• Parental stress and more emotional outbursts. Women with ADHD who are stressed out by parenting are also often misdiagnosed with anxiety or depression.
• Lack of consistency, particularly in terms of discipline
• Not having a supportive parenting style
• Connection with their children. Fathers with ADHD symptoms reportedly present with lower levels of involvement and connection with their children.
• Distraction – distracted parents often have trouble closely supervising their children, which can be risky, given that children with ADHD are so accident-prone.
Being a parent of a child with ADHD does pose significant challenges for all parents – neurotypical or not. If you do suspect that you may have ADHD yourself, it might be a worthwhile exercise to speak to your healthcare practitioner about a screening and possible treatment plan. Research suggests the benefits of controlled symptoms are abundant for the parent, the ADHD-diagnosed child as well as the overall family dynamic.
*According to a 2020 paper on ADHD published in South African Family Practice, parental commitment is influenced by varying factors, including stress, coping mechanisms, culture, socio-economic status and their knowledge of, and attitude to, ADHD.
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