What causes ADD?

ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder)

Theories have ranged from silly to scientific. Let’s look at a few popular theories:

The bad child

In 1920 Still published an article in the British medical journal Lancet and described children who exhibited symptoms of moral control, mischievousness and destructiveness. These children were born bad. The theory of genetics offer some credibility to this theory. Some children live with a genetic predisposition which is passed down. Regardless of genetics it is important to keep in mind that if the parent does not teach, the child will not learn. Parents cannot change the genetic code but good teaching can alter the behaviour.

The role of the family

Stability at home, predictability, an element of constancy, happiness in the home, marital stability, the parents’ attunement with the child are all important factors. When chaos in the family reaches a certain level, the child is likely to tune it out. They slow down the brain, so that it is less alert, less awake and less aware to environmental stress. The same pattern is followed when a child is yelled at constantly or when parents are verbally abusive. Slow frequency ranges are the essence of ADD. So slowing down the brain is very functional as a defense mechanism.

ADD does not exist

“There is nothing wrong with him, he just needs discipline.” The denial of a syndrome, which needs to be spanked out of a child, is not only offensive but ludicrous. In 1979 Schmitt was of the opinion in his book “The Minimal Brain Dysfunction Myth” was of the opinion that ADD is a fabrication by distressed parents, teachers and physicians.

Poor parenting

ADD kids come from various homes good and bad. Poor parenting can however cause ADD to be like a runaway train. Inadequate parenting may make things worse but good parenting can dramatically alter the course of the ADD child. Poor parenting may result in uncontrollable, disrespectful, undisciplined and neurotic children. The dysfunctional behaviour may be the result of the way the children interpret the world based on how it was presented by dysfunctional parents. Therefore, poor parenting dramatically affects the outcome of ADD children in a negative way, but it is highly unlikely to be the cause of ADD.

Environmental influences

Due to zenobiotic toxins, synthetic substances and pollution in the environment a theory that ADD is caused by environmental factors developed and can not be ignored. It will take a long time to collect all data to get a new understanding of molecular biology, toxicology and human sensitivities and hopefully lead to deeper insight. We are just scratching the surface regarding the influence of sugar, food additives, dyes, preservatives, lead, dioxin, mercury etc, and don’t exclude eating habits as an environmental factor either.


Clinicians, teachers, the remedial fraternity and parents have experience of the theory of genetic transmission, which is supported by a number of twin studies by Goodman and Stevenson and Comings. The idea that ADD is a genetic disorder is well grounded in scientific literature. Meeting with the parents of an ADD kid, it is often obvious where it is coming from and that the parents are undiagnosed.

Brain injury

Brain injury can be structural, when the brain is physically damaged and shows up on MRI’s or, or functional where is does not show structural damage but a dysregulation of brain waves cause functional problems. The latter may be more prominent in ADD. When EEG or brainwaves are broken down in specific sites on the head, we see abnormal patterns in ADD patients. Slower frequencies vary from 0,5 to 7 hz and faster frequencies from 15-18 cycles per second. Functional injuries relate to the timing of the brain. Certain functions require production of brainwaves within certain bandwidths. If we go to sleep, the brain should produce slower frequencies. If we write exams we need to produce faster frequencies. A child who needs to concentrate in class will not succeed if he produces slower delta/theta frequencies. The structure of the brain may be good, but on a functional level, the person will not succeed in finishing the task if the brain is not alert. The term MBD or minimal brain dysfunction was changed to ADD to describe the nature of the dysfunction.

Brain injury can occur from many different factors. Children suffering from ADD may not report major head injury but jolts, hits, bangs, whip lash could be sufficient to alter the rhythm of the brain. Toxins and nutritional deficiencies, anoxia or interruption of the flow of oxygen to the brain, encephalitis, severe infections, high fever, damage during pregnancy or birth complications may cause brain injury. Heavy metals may also result in brain injury.

The role of stress

People under stress tend to produce high ranges of beta activity. Although the higher beta ranges are important for vigilance, alertness, concentration and focus, the brain needs to go back to an idling mode to relax, which is the alpha range. Should the brain not adapt or its state flexibility does not bring about relaxation, the brain learns to be hyper vigilant, over sensitive and highly stressed. Children with ADD may zone out if stress or demands are too much and become lethargic and passive as a defense.

Genetic brain injury

Genetic brain injury is carried over from the one generation to another and may play a role in behaviour, personality and cognition.

The main reason for ADD is inefficient brain waves that are produced by the ADD child. One way of treating ADD is to alter the brain waves from too slow frequencies (delta, theta) which cause under arousal and poor concentration and focus as well as too high frequencies, causing tension and hyper activity to frequencies that will help with concentration and other cognitive functions such as sensory motor rhythm.