Children suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are four times more likely to have mental health problems when they grow up than other children.
These findings are presented today at BA Festival of Science by Professor Eric Taylor of the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London.
Many normal children display low levels of the traits associated with ADHD – behaving in an impulsive, inattentive, and restless fashion – which will not cause problems. However, those who display extreme symptoms are more likely to develop an anti-social adjustment, and more likely to show various aspects of personality dysfunction in later adolescence and adult life.
“ADHD is a big problem,” said Prof Taylor. “It is one of the most common disabling conditions in childhood and a major mental health problem in adults. In the United States, drugs to control ADHD in adults are the second most commonly prescribed drugs for mental health after those for depression.”
Many children with ADHD will make a good adjustment as they grow up, especially if they have been treated with understanding. This is because as children get older they develop more attention and impulse control. Sometimes problems continue and, because the condition tends to alienate people from normal social groups and education, young adults are at risk of getting into drugs and other anti-social activities.
Another problem in the UK is that ADHD is under-recognised by doctors and particularly by the educational establishment, so children may not receive the care they need.
Commented Prof Taylor: “Both teachers and parents can find it hard to live with a hyperactive child, and their tolerance and ability to cope may partly influence whether it is presented as a problem. A family affected by ADHD wants acceptance and understanding of the problem, suitable education and (sometimes) medical or psychological treatment. But families often find themselves in conflict with society’s attitudes that are suspicious of identifying ADHD as a condition and think it may be an alibi for poor parenting or poor education.”
Pioneering research by the Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Department at the Institute of Psychiatry has shown that ADHD has a physical basis. The doctors found that certain areas of the brain in children with ADHD are under-active - especially in an area involving the frontal lobes and basal ganglia, which normally work to inhibit inappropriate responses.
“This work shows that there is a distinction between ordinary bad behaviour and ADHD and suggests that adults as well as children need to be treated,” added Prof Taylor. “ADHD behaviours are best thought of as individual differences – high levels are physically influenced and create developmental risk. Treatment by a child mental health service is therefore a logical and useful way to approach them.”