New risk factor for ADHD identified


WOMEN who have their first baby when they are young, particularly those in their teens, are at greater risk of the child having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, new Australian research reveals.

A study from the University of South Australia and published in Nature Research's Scientific Reports explored the genetic relationship between female reproductive traits and key psychiatric disorders.

They concluded that the genetic risk of ADHD in children was strongly associated with early maternal age at first birth, especially for women younger than 20.

In Australia, ADHD affects one in 20 people and is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder which impacts a person's ability to exert age-appropriate self-control.

It is characterised by persistent patterns of inattentive, impulsive and sometimes hyperactive behaviour. Individuals find it hard to focus, concentrate and regulate their emotions.

Using genetic data of 220,685 women, the 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.

Six common psychiatric disorders were examined: ADHD, autism, eating disorders, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Pressure on young mums (Picture: iStock)
Pressure on young mums (Picture: iStock)

UniSA researcher Associate Professor Hong Lee says the findings could help improve reproductive health in women and deliver better outcomes for their children.

"Young mums can have it tough, especially as they're adjusting to becoming a parent while they're still young themselves," Prof Lee said.

"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.

"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," the professor said.