My son's first evaluation regarding the possibility that he may have ADHD was mainly a series of questions about family history. One of the questions the doctor asked was if my son's father had ever been in jail. I was sort of shocked at first because we divorced now because of his drug abuse but the truth was, he had been in trouble with the law before I ever met him and done jail time for burglary and car theft. Then two years after we divorced he got into big trouble with armed robbery and did seven years in a maximum prison. His parents had gotten divorced when he was about 13 and he dropped out of High School when he was in 10th Grade. When I told the doctor all this she told me that there has been some research done that more than half the prison population has either learning disabilities and or ADD/ADHD and that most of these men were labeled as troubled kids when they were around the age of 12 or 13 and because it was ignored they went on to feel lost, helpless etc. and that ADD/ADHD is inherited.

My son didn't start taking Ritalin until he was 13. I struggled with him all through school until I just couldn't take it anymore. He was constantly in trouble at school and was on the brink of getting kicked out so I first tried counseling and then medicating. Now he went from being a C & D student to A's & B's. He even gets compliments now on his report card instead of U's across the board. Do you think there is any truth to what my doctor said about the prisoners and or divorced kids who just sort of fall off the deep end when their parents split up? Is ADD/ADHD hereditary? If you have time to answer this I'd appreciate it.    -- Thank you, W. Q. 


I think it is quite unfortunate that the doctor presented data in a way that scared you or made you feel hopeless about your son. While it is true that many of those in jail have had learning problems or problems with impulsivity far more children with either condition are productive and useful citizens than residing in a penitentiary. So you see depending upon how you look at the data you can either be worried or hopeful.


Personality is likely heritable. Your son's temperament (including some of his abilities to stay with tasks that are not immediately rewarding to him) can be passed from his parents. However, genes may reflect a tendency but are not a blueprint or mandate for a specific outcome. In one way I think the genetic data is presented to parents so that they won't feel like their child's behavior is not their fault. I think on the downside parents can feel hopeless - like what's the point - if his father went to jail, so must he. That just isn't correct. So many of these kids find niches that work much better for them after high school even without medication. And your son is already performing better in school. I know parents worry no matter what but I hope that I lent another perspective to the whole heredity question and ADHD for you.