Friday, March 18, 2011
ADHD, Genetics, and Causality: A Chicken-Egg Problem
The conventional view of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder has been to be caused by heredity, brain injury, or other birth exposures (see the CDC's fact page on ADHD for a full list and a description of the disorder). Canadian physician Gabor Mate argues that it and a variety of other mental problems in childhood and adolescence is primarily caused by modern stressors placed on children as their brains develop. The primary thrust of his argument is given in the clip below on Democracy Now.
His view on ADHD is not the best known view which may or may not be the case in the future as prevailing views in science ebb and flow. I asked the local director of CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder) first if she'd heard of Dr. Mate and what her reaction to his views were. She said she was not and that her group favored the hereditary hypothesis and did not like to blame parents or society. They prefer to build people up not tear people down.
Individuals who grew up in a chaotic household may find Dr. Mate's theories appealing. He uses case studies and personal information from his life in his book Scattered: How ATTENTION DEFICIT DISORDER ORIGINATES and What You Can Do About It as a Jewish child in WWII Hungary and sites other studies to support his argument without going into their methodology, A genetic link to ADHD has been established and, given this link, often parental stress can be found even in societies without these modern stressors. Also modern societies have better tools to detect behavioral problems like ADHD which would explain the increased rate of diagnosis. Finally as is the case on my post on autism (see Cause & Effect, Slip Slidin' Away ) it is difficult to do experiments on this disorder as it is unethical to do on people and there is no good animal model yet for ADHD.
For a more conventional explanation of the prevailing scientific view of ADHD from the documentary ADD & Loving It you can see the video in the link below. Dr. Mate doesn't directly blame the parents but societal pressures that are put on the parents.