Women who get pregnant at a young age are more likely to have children with ADHD, new research suggests.
Originally published in August, the study in Nature’s Scientific Reports found the “genetic risk” of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder was linked to young women, in particular women under 20.
“Young mums can have it tough, especially as they’re adjusting to becoming a parent while they’re still young themselves,” University of South Australia researcher and associate professor Hong Lee in a statement.
“By understanding the links between becoming a mother at a young age and having a child with ADHD, we’re able to better educate and support families sooner.”
Looking at the data
The study looked at data of 220,685 women through the UK Biobank and looked at their reproductive traits, including when these women gave birth, the first time they had sexual intercourse, when they got their periods and other factors. Next, researchers looked at six common psychiatric disorders, including bipolar disorder, ADHD, autism and depression.
“The approach is twofold. Firstly, we’re able to inform young women about the high genetic risk of having a child with ADHD if they give birth at a young age. This may caution and prevent them from giving birth at an immature age, which not only improves their reproductive health but also the maternal environment for their baby,” Lee continued in a statement.
“Secondly, we’re able to educate young mothers about the features of ADHD, such as impulsivity and inattentive behaviours, which may help mothers better recognise the condition in their child and seek treatment sooner than later.”
Lee added ADHD is treatable and an early diagnosis is key for all parties involved.
But this doesn’t mean all young mothers will have a child with ADHD. Lee says it is way more complicated than that.
“ADHD is a highly heritable disorder which means that a young mother may also have the genes affecting ADHD risk which is then inherited by her child,” Lee said.
“Knowing a woman has a genetic predisposition for ADHD can be recorded in her family medical history then used to monitor her health and the health of her offspring. In this way, we’re able to ensure both mother and baby receive the support and help they need.”
ADHD in children
ADHD is a spectrum and not every child will experience it in the same way, experts previously told Global News.
“Unfortunately, there are still a lot of misinformation and myths about ADHD,” said Heidi Bernhardt, president and executive director of Centre for ADHD Awareness Canada, a non-profit organization focused on awareness, education and ADHD advocacy.
“Most people think about the classic little boy running around and a lot of people look at these kids as undisciplined or kids who receive inadequate parenting.”
ADHD is complex, she adds, and some children are not hyperactive at all.
Children, in particular, can present ADHD in three different ways. This includes children with combined ADHD, which means they have all three primary symptoms: difficulty regulating attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.
Some children may be “primarily inattentive,” meaning they have difficulty regulating attention, she said. There is also a rare presentation called primarily hyperactive.
What parents need to look out for
If you have any concerns as a parent, talk to your doctor first.
Bernhardt says there are some things parents can keep an eye out for. The biggest red flag is if your child is not “functioning at the same level as kids their age.”
“Taking into consideration there is a wide level of functioning that is considered ‘normal,’” she said.
This could mean if your child is playing a game they love, for example, they may not be able to pay attention or stay involved.
Hyperactivity is another red flag.
“If a child is impulsive, they don’t think before they do something — sometimes they can run out on the street without thinking, even though they are reminded not to a hundred times.”
Some children end up yelling, lashing out or pushing away to deal with their frustrations.
Doctors can help with medication, but Bernhardt says managing a child’s ADHD also starts at home.
This can include tutoring, family therapy, promoting exercise and healthy eating and getting your child on a good bedtime routine.