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Did Your ADHD Begin in The Womb?

ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by difficulties with attention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity that can significantly impact a person's daily functioning and quality of life. According to the WHO just over 5% of children and teenagers across the world have ADHD, with higher prevalence in boys. Approximately 66% of children with ADHD continue to experience symptoms into adulthood. By 2035 it is estimated that 1 in 3 children will have ADHD.

Birth trauma and autism spectrum disorders have long been linked, with maternal stress during pregnancy and traumatic birth experiences increasing the risk of these conditions. Research shows that children born by C-Section are between 30 and 80 percent more likely to develop autism spectrum disorders than those born vaginally. This is based on 61 studies across 19 different countries that comprised of a data set of more than 20 million births. Studies also show that maternal stress and compromised immunity during pregnanc increases the risk of the child developing autism spectrum disorders such as ADHD.

A deeper understanding of the potential mechanisms behind these associations is both necessary and important due to the growing rate of cesarean deliveries for non medical reasons. C-section deliveries nearly doubled worldwide since 2000 and the World Health Organization published new guidance on non-clinical interventions designed to reduce unnecessary C-sections.

In this blog post I explore:

  • What is ADHD, how it affects the brain and how this mirrors the way PTSD affects the brain

  • The prevalence of ADHD and how it relates to the increase in C-Section births

  • The risks and side effects of treating ADHD with medication

  • How maternal stress during pregnancy increases the risk of ADHD in the child

  • The relationship between gut microbiome, maternal stress and ADHD

What Exactly is ADHD?

ADHD is a condition that starts in early childhood and can last a lifetime. It's something that affects more boys than girls. The main signs of ADHD are having trouble paying attention, being very impulsive, and being overly active.

Researchers have discovered that the brains of people with ADHD are a bit different. In particular, they've found that the part of the brain responsible for things like focus, self-control, and memory tends to be smaller in people with ADHD.

What's really interesting is that ADHD seems to have a strong genetic link.

Scientists believe that up to 80% of ADHD cases are connected to a person's genes. This means ADHD is often passed down in families. This begs the question: could the echoes of trauma, pain, and unresolved wounds embedded in a person's ancestral lineage be subtly shaping the neurological landscape of those with ADHD? The emerging field of epigenetics – the study of how environmental factors can influence gene expression – sheds light on this intriguing possibility.

Mounting evidence suggests that the impact of trauma and adversity can reverberate through the generations, manifesting in physiological and neurological patterns that are passed down, even in the absence of direct exposure. A mother's own nervous system dysregulation, forged through the crucible of her own lived experiences, can imprint upon the developing brain of her child, even before birth. This delicate dance between nature and nurture may be a crucial piece of the ADHD puzzle, underscoring the need for a holistic, trauma-informed approach to understanding and supporting those affected by this condition.

Click here to explore my online course on healing ancestral trauma

Signs of ADHD in New Born Babies

While ADHD is typically diagnosed in childhood, emerging research suggests that the early signs of this neurodevelopmental disorder may actually be detectable in newborns.

Studies have found that infants who go on to be diagnosed with ADHD later in life can exhibit distinct behavioral patterns from a very young age.

These include increased irritability, excessive crying, difficulties with soothing, poor self-regulation, and abnormal sleep-wake cycles.

Additionally, subtle neurological differences in brain activity and information processing have been observed in ADHD newborns, even before the onset of more overt behavioral symptoms.

Signs of ADHD in Toddlers

At the heart of this diagnostic dilemma lies a fundamental question: when does typical toddler behavior cross the line into the realm of ADHD? Hyperactivity, impulsivity, and restlessness may be hallmarks of the disorder, but they can also be brushed off as mere childhood exuberance. Add to this the potential comorbidities of anxiety, developmental delays, and sleep disturbances, and the picture becomes even more muddied. Yet, for the parents of these young charges, the stakes could not be higher, as early intervention can make all the difference in shaping the trajectory of a child's life. Despite the challenges, researchers estimate that up to 3% of toddlers may be grappling with ADHD, underscoring the critical need for a more comprehensive, compassionate, and nuanced approach to diagnosing and supporting this vulnerable population.

Signs of ADHD in toddlers may include:

  • Hyperactivity: Toddlers with ADHD may be constantly in motion, running, climbing, or jumping excessively.

  • Inattention: Toddlers with ADHD may have difficulty focusing on tasks or activities, such as playing with toys or listening to stories.

  • Impulsivity: Toddlers with ADHD may act without thinking, such as grabbing toys from other children or running into the street.

  • Restlessness: Toddlers with ADHD may have trouble sitting still, squirming or fidgeting often.

  • Short attention span: Toddlers with ADHD may quickly lose interest in activities and move on to something else.

  • Difficulty with transitions: Toddlers with ADHD may struggle with changes in routine or transitioning from one activity to another.

  • Sleep problems: Toddlers with ADHD may have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, leading to chronic sleep deprivation.

  • Poor appetite: Some toddlers with ADHD may have a poor appetite and may be picky eaters.

Signs of ADHD in Young Children

Diagnosing ADHD in young children can be challenging for a number of reasons.

As mentioned, many of the symptoms of ADHD, such as inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, are common in young children and can be part of normal development.

Second, young children are often unable to accurately describe their own feelings, internal sensations and experiences, which can make it harder to gather the necessary information to make a diagnosis.

Third, ADHD can co-occur with other conditions, such as birth trauma, anxiety and learning disabilities, which can complicate the diagnostic process.

Fourth, there is no single test or diagnostic tool that can definitively diagnose ADHD in young children. Instead, healthcare professionals rely on a combination of clinical interviews, parent and teacher rating scales, and observations of the child's behavior in different settings.

Finally, there can be stigma and misconceptions surrounding ADHD, which can make it difficult for parents and caregivers to recognize and seek help for their child's symptoms. This can delay diagnosis and treatment, which can have negative consequences for the child's academic, social, and emotional development.

Overall, diagnosing ADHD in young children requires careful consideration of a range of factors and a comprehensive evaluation by healthcare professionals. With appropriate diagnosis and treatment, children with ADHD can learn to manage their symptoms and thrive.

Signs of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in young children may include:

  • Difficulty paying attention: Children with ADHD may have difficulty focusing on tasks or activities for a sustained period of time, even when they are interesting or enjoyable.

  • Hyperactivity: Children with ADHD may be restless and constantly in motion, fidgeting, or squirming, even when seated.

  • Impulsivity: Children with ADHD may act without thinking and have difficulty waiting their turn, interrupting others, or blurting out answers before the question has been fully asked.

  • Poor organization and planning skills: Children with ADHD may have trouble organizing their belongings, completing tasks, or following instructions.

  • Forgetfulness: Children with ADHD may forget to complete tasks or to bring necessary items to school or activities.

  • Difficulty with transitions: Children with ADHD may struggle with transitioning from one activity or task to another, leading to frustration and anxiety.

  • Mood swings: They may experience frequent mood swings, leading to irritability and emotional outbursts.

  • Difficulty with social interactions: Children with ADHD may have difficulty with social skills, such as taking turns or sharing, which can lead to problems with peers.

  • Aggressive behavior: Some children with ADHD may exhibit aggressive behavior, such as hitting or biting, when they become frustrated or overwhelmed.

  • Difficulty with academic performance: Children with ADHD may struggle with academic tasks, such as reading or writing, due to inattention and poor organization skills.

  • Sleep problems: Children with ADHD may have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, leading to chronic sleep deprivation.

  • Poor appetite: Some children with ADHD may have a poor appetite and may be picky eaters.

Signs of ADHD in Teenagers

The adolescent years are tumultuous enough, but for the growing number of teenagers grappling with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the challenges can be downright daunting.

New data paints a startling picture - the prevalence of ADHD among U.S. teenagers has skyrocketed in recent decades, soaring from 6.1% to a staggering 10.2% between 1999 and 2016 alone.

This escalating epidemic presents a perfect storm of obstacles for affected youth, from the relentless academic pressures that can prove kryptonite to their scattered focus, to the isolating social stigma that fuels feelings of inadequacy. And in our digital age, the ever-present lure of social media and endless online stimuli only serves to exacerbate the symptoms, leaving many teenagers with ADHD overwhelmed and overstimulated.

Signs of ADHD in teens may include:

  • Difficulty completing tasks: Teenagers with ADHD may have difficulty completing tasks, such as homework assignments or chores, due to distractibility and poor time management skills.

  • Forgetfulness: They may forget appointments or deadlines and have trouble remembering to bring necessary items to school or activities.

  • Impulsivity: Teenagers with ADHD may act impulsively, engaging in risky behaviors, such as driving too fast or experimenting with drugs and alcohol.

  • Inattention: They may have difficulty paying attention during class or when spoken to directly, leading to poor academic performance.

  • Hyperactivity: While hyperactivity may be less prominent in teenagers with ADHD than in younger children, some may still exhibit restlessness and fidgeting.

  • Poor decision-making: Teenagers with ADHD may struggle with making decisions and may not consider the consequences of their actions.

  • Disorganization: They may have trouble staying organized, keeping track of their belongings, and maintaining a tidy living space.

  • Difficulty with relationships: Teenagers with ADHD may struggle to form and maintain relationships with peers and may have difficulty with social skills.

  • Mood swings: They may experience frequent mood swings, leading to irritability and emotional outbursts.

  • Procrastination: They may have difficulty starting tasks or putting them off until the last minute.

  • Lack of motivation: Teenagers with ADHD may lack motivation to complete tasks, even when they are interested in the activity or subject.

  • Poor sleep habits: They may have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, leading to chronic sleep deprivation.

  • Low self-esteem: Teenagers with ADHD may struggle with low self-esteem, feeling different or like they don't fit in with their peers.

  • Difficulty with transitions: They may have difficulty transitioning from one activity or task to another, leading to frustration and anxiety.

  • Impaired driving: Teenagers with ADHD may struggle with safe driving practices, such as following traffic laws and maintaining focus on the road.

  • Substance abuse: Teenagers with ADHD may have a higher risk of developing substance abuse problems due to impulsivity and difficulty with self-control.

Signs of ADHD in Adults

The strain on personal relationships is particularly pronounced, as adults with ADHD often find themselves at odds with their partners due to communication breakdowns, impulsive behaviors, and difficulties with emotional regulation.

In fact, research paints a stark picture - those with ADHD are a staggering 2.6 times more likely to experience the heartbreak of divorce compared to their neurotypical counterparts. And the impact on family dynamics can be no less devastating, with studies showing that ADHD-affected parents are more prone to negative interactions, harsh criticism, and inconsistent discipline with their children.

But the consequences of ADHD extend far beyond the home front, as adults also face an uphill battle in their careers. The very traits that can strain personal relationships - poor time management, organizational challenges, and problems with attention to detail - can also derail professional success, leaving many ADHD individuals facing job insecurity and dissatisfaction.

Yet, the story of ADHD in adulthood does not end there. Emerging evidence suggests that the burden of this condition extends well beyond the psychological, seeping into the realm of physical health. Adults with ADHD appear to be predisposed to a host of debilitating somatic conditions, from heart disease and diabetes to sleep disorders and migraines. And tragically, many of these ailments have been linked to the lingering scars of childhood trauma, further compounding the challenges faced by this vulnerable population.

Signs of ADHD in adults may include :

  • Problems connecting with others: Adults with ADHD may struggle to form and maintain relationships due to difficulties with social cues and communication.

  • Difficulty concentrating and staying on task: They may have trouble staying focused on tasks or completing them due to distractibility and restlessness.

  • Impulsivity: Adults with ADHD may act impulsively without considering the consequences, which can lead to problems in various aspects of their life, such as finances, relationships, and work.

  • Frequent outbursts and feeling easily overwhelmed: Adults with ADHD may have emotional outbursts or feel overwhelmed in situations that others find manageable.

  • Hyperactive behavior: While hyperactivity is more commonly associated with children with ADHD, some adults with ADHD may also experience restlessness and fidgeting.

  • Poor impulse control: They may have difficulty controlling their impulses, leading to risky or impulsive behaviors.

  • Difficulty controlling their emotions: Adults with ADHD may have difficulty regulating their emotions, resulting in frequent mood swings or feelings of anger, frustration, and irritability.

  • Difficulty grounding and regulating their nervous system: They may have trouble calming themselves down when feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated.

  • Emotional dysregulation: They may experience intense emotions that are difficult to manage, such as anger, anxiety, or depression.

  • Numbing (lack of emotion) and dissociation: Some adults with ADHD may have difficulty accessing and understanding their emotions, leading to feelings of emotional numbness or dissociation.

  • Interrupted sleep and insomnia: Adults with ADHD may experience difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, leading to chronic sleep deprivation.

  • Trouble accessing deeper emotions and understanding them: They may struggle with introspection and may have difficulty accessing and understanding their deeper emotions and motivations.

  • Easily distracted, scattered, and disorganized: Adults with ADHD may have trouble staying organized, managing their time, and prioritizing tasks, which can lead to feeling overwhelmed or anxious.

  • Repetitive behaviors: They may engage in repetitive behaviors, such as tapping or pacing, as a way to manage their restlessness or anxiety.

  • Feelings of shame and guilt: Adults with ADHD may feel shame and guilt over their struggles, leading to low self-esteem and self-worth.

  • Trouble moderating their speech volume: They may struggle to regulate the volume of their voice, speaking too loudly or softly in different situations.

  • Substance abuse: Adults with ADHD may have a higher risk of developing substance abuse problems due to impulsivity and difficulty with self-control.

  • Headaches: Adults with ADHD may experience frequent headaches or migraines, which can be caused by stress, anxiety, or sleep disturbances.

Is the Explosion of ADHD Diagnoses and Drugs A Cause for Concern?

woman with mouth open taking a pill

The prevalence of ADHD diagnoses in children has skyrocketed in recent decades, with some estimates indicating a 42% increase in the United States over the past 20 years.

The use of Adderall and Ritalin to treat ADHD has also surged, with over 6 million children and adolescents now taking these potent drugs.

This rapid rise in both ADHD diagnoses and pharmacological interventions has raised concerns and some experts argue that ADHD is being overdiagnosed.

The truth is, ADHD drugs are big business. The pharma industry has created powerful financial incentives for doctors, and even schools to promote ADHD diagnoses and treatment. Critics argue that aggressive marketing campaigns, physician kickbacks, and the medicalization of normal childhood behaviors have all contributed to the skyrocketing rates of ADHD, as healthcare providers are increasingly incentivized to pathologize and drug young people, making them dependent on medication for life.

Administering addictive drugs to children whose brains are still developing and whose nervous systems are highly dysregulated is a disaster waiting to happen. This practice bears a chilling resemblance to the pharmaceutical industry's past exploitation of vulnerable populations for profit. The ADHD medication crisis echoes the opioid epidemic, where major drug companies aggressively marketed highly addictive painkillers to the general public, downplaying their risk of dependency. The result was a nationwide crisis of opioid addiction that devastated countless lives.

Similarly, the push to medicate millions of children with potent stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin, despite concerns about their long-term impact on developing brains, has the makings of another pharmaceutical disaster. Just as opioid manufacturers prioritized revenues over public health, the ADHD drug industry appears to be prioritizing its bottom line over the wellbeing of children. Exposing young, impressionable minds to addictive controlled substances is a reckless gamble with catastrophic potential consequences. If history is any guide, the pharmaceutical industry's pursuit of profit at the expense of ethics and human welfare could spark a public health crisis of equally devastating proportions.

Addiction & The Dangerous Side Effects of ADHD Drugs

For many individuals living with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), prescription medications have become the go-to solution to manage their symptoms. Stimulant drugs like methylphenidate, dextroamphetamine, and amphetamine, as well as non-stimulants such as atomoxetine and guanfacine, are widely used to curb the hallmark behaviors of ADHD - inattention, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity. However, this pharmaceutical Band-Aid comes with a host of concerning side effects and long-term consequences that are often overlooked.

While these medications can be effective in the short-term, their use is not without risk. Decreased appetite, insomnia, headaches, mood swings, and digestive issues are just some of the undesirable side effects that patients may experience. But the real danger lies in the highly addictive nature of many ADHD drugs and their diminishing efficacy over time. In fact, up to 15% of those taking stimulant medications long-term can develop a crippling dependence, and nearly half may find their medications losing potency. This can trigger a vicious cycle of substituting other illicit substances to fill the void, further exacerbating the problem.

Alarmingly, the misuse of stimulant ADHD drugs by those with the condition is a staggering eight times higher than among the general population. As the use of these medications continues to skyrocket, this double-edged sword has the potential to create a public health crisis of epic proportions if left unchecked.

Importance of the Frontal Cortex in ADHD

The frontal cortex is like the "command center" of our brains and helps us stay organized and focused in our lives. However, for those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a disruption in this area can cause significant difficulty with focus, organization, and impulse control.

It is even more important to understand the importance of this region when considering that trauma can have a lasting impact on the brain's executive functioning system, causing symptoms similar to those exhibited by people with ADHD.

By understanding how executives functions are impaired due to trauma and how the frontal cortex plays a role, adults and teens can work to manage their ADHD more effectively.

How ADHD Impacts the Frontal Cortex

Studies have shown differences between the brains of those with ADHD and those without.

Adults with ADHD have decreased volume and activity in their left frontal cortex compared to those without ADHD.

PTSD also affects the frontal cortex, and research shows reduced volume in the medial prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex in individuals with PTSD. This is where the line gets blurry between ADHD and PTSD. Neurological factors associated with ADHD and PTSD can potentially influence cognitive and emotional functioning in similar ways, making it harder to process trauma and emotions from the past and impacting the nervous system's ability to regulate stress. This is reinforced by research which suggests that individuals with ADHD often exhibit lower vagal tone compared to those without the condition. Lower vagal tone makes it harder to self-regulate emotions, cope with stress, and maintain focus.

Developing somatic tools of nervous system regulation and resolving childhood trauma patterns held in the nervous system are key to healing ADHD as well as PTSD.

How Trauma Affects the Frontal Cortex

The frontal cortex plays a vital role in regulating emotion, attention, and decision-making. It's also responsible for higher order thinking processes, such as planning, problem-solving, attention, and impulse control. It allows us to assess and evaluate situations, weigh potential risks and costs, and make informed decisions. The frontal cortex is also involved in the regulation of emotions by inhibiting inappropriate or unwanted responses to stimuli.

There is evidence to suggest that dysfunction in the frontal cortex may be involved in the development of several mental health conditions, including ADHD, depression, and anxiety disorders. Research has shown that individuals with ADHD, in particular, have a smaller prefrontal cortex compared to those without ADHD.

Trauma, whether experienced in childhood or adulthood, can significantly impact the development and functioning of the frontal cortex. Studies have found that individuals who have experienced trauma have decreased volume and activity in the prefrontal cortex. Additionally, these individuals may experience difficulties with impulse regulation, emotional regulation, attention, and decision-making.

How Maternal Stress During Pregnancy Can Cause ADHD

Maternal stress during pregnancy has been linked to the development of ADHD. Exposure to stress hormones during the sensitive time in utero has a long lasting effect on the developing fetal brain. Research shows that elevated levels of cortisol throughout pregnancy can lead to hyperactivity and impulsivity, poor immunity, anxiety and depression.

Cortisol passes from the mother's system to the baby through the placenta. When a mother is under more stress, has unresolved trauma in her own nervous system or has hormonal imbalances whilst pregnant, cortisol levels in the amniotic fluid can rise. This immerses the baby's brain in toxicity. This level of toxicity sustained through pregnancy effectively teaches the baby's developing nervous system to be in a constant state of stress and therefore the fight and flight response becomes the baseline level of functioning. This can change the structure and function of the baby's brain and symptoms can persist into adulthood if the mother and child are not healed.

The Danger of Toxicity During Pregnancy

Heavy metals have become pervasive in our modern environment. Aside from the food chain, common household items like cookware, cosmetics, and cleaning products can contain high levels of aluminum, arsenic, and chromium. Exposure to this during pregnancy but even before, increases the risk of the baby developing ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

Heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and certain pesticides can affect the mother's nervous system and hormonal balance (read more in my blog article here, on how trauma is transmitted in utero) and also cross the placenta and interfere with the delicate process of neurological development. These toxins can impair the formation and function of critical brain structures, such as the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for regulating attention, impulse control, and cognitive flexibility - all of which are hallmarks of ADHD.

They can trigger an inflammatory response in the mother's body, leading to the release of inflammatory mediators that can impact fetal brain development. This inflammatory cascade is more exaggerated if the mother is already traumatised and her nervous system is in fight or flight.

This level of systemic inflammation can disrupt the balance of neurotransmitters in the fetal brain, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, which are essential for maintaining attention and focus, contributing to the emergence of ADHD-like symptoms later in the child's life.

How a Mother's Nervous System can Affect the Child's Gut Microbiome and Trigger ADHD

The gut-brain axis is a two-way communication pathway between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system. This connection is bidirectional, meaning that signals from the brain can influence gut functioning, while signals from the gut can influence the brain. Research suggests that this connection plays an important role in health, as it can impact mood, behavior, brain development, and immunity.

The gut microbiome is the unique collection of microbial communities within the digestive tract. It is believed to play an important role in many aspects of human health, including digestion, metabolism, immune system function, and even cognitive development. Different studies have found that the diversity and composition of our gut microbiome can influence our overall health and well-being.

Maternal stress during pregnancy can affect the development of the infant's gut microbiome. Studies have found that children born to mothers who reported high levels of stress during their pregnancies had different concentrations of beneficial microbes compared to those without such stressful experiences. Additionally, higher levels of maternal stress were associated with lower diversity in the infant's gut microbiome, which could put them at a greater risk for certain health conditions later in life.

Research has suggested that there is a connection between the gut microbiome, ADHD and Autism. Studies have found that people with ADHD may have a different gut microbial composition, with higher levels of specific types of bacteria associated with digestive problems and lower levels of other healthy bacteria species.

My unique healing techniques focus on identifying and clearing in utero trauma imprints of fear, shock, stress and grief that may be stored in the nervous system and organs, particularly the kidneys, adrenals and liver.

This trauma is held at a sub verbal level and is rarely possible to heal through traditional forms of talking therapy or even mainstream somatic integration.

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