Children of young mums more likely to have ADHD
Young mothers have a greater chance of having a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to research from the University of South Australia (UniSA).
ADHD is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts a person’s ability to exert age-appropriate self-control. Characterised by persistent patterns of inattentive, impulsive and sometimes hyperactive behaviour, individuals find it hard to focus, concentrate and regulate their emotions. The disorder affects one in 20 people in Australia.
Using genetic data of 220,685 women via the UK Biobank, the UniSA study examined genetic correlations between five female reproductive traits (age at first birth, age at first sexual intercourse, age at first occurrence of menstruation, age at menopause and number of live births) and six common psychiatric disorders (ADHD, autism, eating disorders, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia). Genetic risk of ADHD in children was found to be strongly associated with early maternal age at first birth, particularly for women younger than 20.
UniSA researcher Associate Professor Hong Lee said the findings, published in the journal Scientific Reports, could help improve reproductive health in women and deliver better outcomes for their children.
“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,” Assoc Prof Lee said.
“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.
“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.
“ADHD is treatable, but early diagnosis and interventions are key to a successful outcome.”
Assoc Prof Lee said while the findings are significant, there are some latent complexities.
“It’s important to understand that while there is a clear genetic link between ADHD and young mothers, this is not necessarily a causal relationship,” he said.
“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.
“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.”
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