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Divorce and ADHD Families

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) afflicts about 5 percent of U.S. children. They experience symptoms such as forgetfulness, a tendency to daydream, and an inability to concentrate and follow directions. A recent study shows that the problems of ADHD aren't limited to children who have the disorder. Their parents are more likely to divorce than are parents of non-ADHD children.

This finding was announced by William E. Pelham Jr., PhD, the study's senior author and a professor of pediatrics and psychology at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Pelham and his team gathered data from the parents of 282 ADHD-diagnosed teens and young adults who were part of a larger research project, the Pittsburgh ADHD Longitudinal Study. Additionally, they assessed the parents of 206 teens and young adults without the disorder.

Pelham found that by the time the ADHD children were age 8, the divorce rate among their families was 22.7 percent. Among families with no ADHD children, the rate was 12.6 percent. He attributed the difference mainly to interpersonal stress: "One of the problems in families with ADHD kids is, one parent will be really concerned it's a problem and the other won't see it as a problem." A father, for example, might consider a son's inattentiveness part of "just being a boy."

Other factors, too, may contribute to the risk of divorce, say researchers:

  • The child might have a coexisting problem, such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) or conduct disorder (CD);
  • A parent might engage in antisocial behavior, such as alcohol or drug abuse;
  • There might be a large discrepancy in the education levels of the two parents, leading to friction and misunderstandings.

But Pelham also points to a brighter side, saying that after an ADHD child reaches 8, the divorce rate does not change significantly. Starting then, he says, the child's core symptoms tend to lessen, and by that time most parents have learned to cope. The best way forward is to cooperate, work together, and improve child-rearing skills-a good lesson for all families.

If you face marital issues related to a child's medical condition, it is prudent to consult a lawyer with experience in children and divorce. A family law attorney can advise you of your legal rights and available options.

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