Does your child have trouble paying attention? Does he or she talk nonstop or have trouble staying still? Does your child have a hard time controlling his or her behavior? For some children, these may be symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

 ADHD is a common mental disorder that begins in childhood and can continue through adolescence and adulthood. It makes it hard for a child to focus and pay attention. Some children may be hyperactive or have trouble being patient. For children with ADHD, levels of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behaviors are greater than for other children in their age group. ADHD can make it hard for a child to do well in school or behave at home or in the community.

No one knows for sure. ADHD probably stems from interactions between genes and environmental or non-genetic factors. ADHD often runs in families. Researchers have found that much of the risk of having ADHD has to do with genes. Many genes are linked to ADHD, and each gene plays a small role in the disorder. ADHD is very complex and a genetic test for diagnosing the disorder is not yet available. Among the non-genetic factors that may increase a child’s risk for developing ADHD are:

  • Smoking or drinking during pregnancy
  • Birth complications or very low birth weight
  • Exposure to lead or other toxic substances
  • Extreme neglect, abuse, or social deprivation.
  • Food additives like artificial coloring, which might make hyperactivity worse. Some studies suggest that artificial food additives and dyes may worsen hyperactivity and inattention, but these effects are small and do not account for most cases of ADHD.
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