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The simplified science behind ADHD: What you need to know

Updated: Jun 4, 2023

Genetics, neurotransmitter and parenting style - how do they play into ADHD? In this article we explain the medical background behind your child’s ADHD diagnosis, and replace commonly held myths with facts

So…your child has been diagnosed with ADHD; now what? The questions then start to run through your mind. Why my child? Whose fault is it? What could I have done differently? How can I help?

ADHD Factors

In the post below, we'll address many of those questions by talking about the following factors at play:

  • Genetics

  • Neurotransmitters

  • Environmental factors

  • Parenting

1. Genetics

Genetics play a role in ADHD. Studies have proven it. Families with one ADHD parent or child are more likely to have another child or sibling with ADHD. At Pery, we're pretty familiar with that genetic truth. Many of us have children with ADHD, as well as manage ADHD ourselves.

2. Neurotransmitters

Neurotransmitters play a role in ADHD. We're about to get a bit scientific here, so bear with us if that's not your thing. Basically, the brain has neurons that send signals to one another at a set pace. These neurons "pass" brain instructions and commands by releasing chemicals called "neurotransmitters," firing off messages from one neuron to the next. ADHD brains have demonstrated an imbalance in regulating those chemicals. That's where the use of medication to treat ADHD comes into play.

Norepinephrine, Dopamine, and Serotonin. Heard of any of those? They're commonly known neurotransmitters, and people with ADHD tend to have lower levels of them. Stimulant ADHD medications like Adderall or Desoxyn, increase those neurotransmitters to treat the imbalance.

They make it easier for messages to pass along the brain properly and are proven to decrease ADHD symptoms.

Methylphenidate, the chemical in commonly prescribed Ritalin and Concerta, is another type of ADHD medication aimed at restoring balance, but in a different manner. It works by slowing down the removal of the neurotransmitter dopamine as it's transferred from one neuron to the next.

Whether you stimulate more dopamine, like in the above, or remove less dopamine, like in the below, the proven result is increased brain harmony and fewer ADHD symptoms.

3. Health factors

Environmental factors have also been shown to play a role in ADHD. Common environmental factors that have demonstrated a higher rate of ADHD occurrence include:

  • Lead exposure. In childhood or the womb

  • Alcohol & tobacco. Usage during pregnancy.

  • Premies. Babies born before 37 weeks or at low birth weights

  • Epilepsy. Can be a risk factor for ADHD

4. Parenting

ADHD is NOT determined by good or bad parenting. We want to be very clear about that. A child with ADHD will undoubtedly benefit from their parents' help in dealing with it. But it is not your parenting style that brought on ADHD in the first place.

Now What?!?

In the pragmatic words of Dr. Nicholas Grumbach, Pediatrician at Pery and Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Internal Medicine at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, "Many successful people have ADHD. We want to assist you in helping your child achieve their best. The “why” doesn’t matter. What matters is how you, as a parent, help assist them reach their true potential”

The fact that you're reading this is already a great start. It means you've dedicated your time and attention to helping your child navigate a difficult problem. So pat yourself on the back, take a deep breath, and know that #we'vegothis!


  1. ADHD is genetically common.

  2. ADHD is correlated with an imbalance in neurotransmitters. There are medicines that treat ADHD symptoms by helping restore balance.

  3. Good parenting can help deal with ADHD. Bad parenting cannot cause it.

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