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ADHD NOT a Recipe for Life of Crime

Crime is not a way of life for the vast majority of persons with ADHD. Dr. Emmy Werner’s work provides an insight into and understanding of how ADHD can be overcome and individuals develop into productive members of society leading satisfying lives.

Dr. Werner is known in the field of child development for her leadership of a thirty year longitudinal study of 698 infants on the Hawaiian island of Kauai —the island’s entire birth cohort for the year 1955. The study indicated that many children exposed to reproductive and environmental risk factors (for instance, premature birth coupled with an unstable household and a mentally ill mother) go on to experience more problems with delinquency, mental and physical health and family stability than children exposed to fewer such risk factors.

One of Dr. Werner’s most significant findings was that one third of all high-risk children displayed resilience and developed into normal, happy adults despite their problematic development histories. She and her fellow researchers identified a number of protective factors in the lives of these resilient individuals which, they hypothesized, helped to balance out risk factors at critical periods in their development. Among these factors were a strong bond with a nonparent caretaker (such as an aunt, babysitter, or teacher) and involvement in a church or community group.

The modification of behavioral outcomes is possible through positive environmental experiences.  An early history of positive support and care increases the individuals’ ability to adapt and cope in stressful situations.  These individuals can learn coping skills and techniques which enable them to transition successfully into adult life.

Children with early histories of secure attachment at infancy and generally supportive care in the first two years of life demonstrate a greater capacity to rebound from a period of poor adaptation in the elementary school years compared to those with less supportive histories.

Dr. Werner’s study indicates that high risk children who have difficulties in their teen years can with support and help became responsible employees, spouses and parents in their thirties and forties.  These typically were individuals who participated in sources of community support.  The ability to seek support and accept help created the acceptance of the concept of trust which in turn opened them to positive development.

Longitudinal studies suggest that it is the combination of ADD/ADHD with adverse environments during childhood that have the greatest negative impact on individuals who are genetically vulnerable.

Dr. Werner noted, “In most cases, the factors that mitigated the negative effects of childhood adversity also benefitted children who lived in stable and secure homes but they appear to have particular importance when adversity levels are high.”

However, those who engage in activities that bring them into conflict with the criminal justice system generally have considerable difficulty controlling their impulses. The majority of high risk children, those who had become troubled teenagers, were recovered in the third and fourth decades of life and became responsible partners, parents and citizens in their communities.

Individuals who availed themselves of informal sources of support in the community and whose lives then took a positive turn, differed in significant ways from those who did not make use of such resources. They had also been exposed to more positive interactions with their primary caregivers in the first two years of life. Dr. Werner suggests that their early rearing conditions fostered a sense of trust which served them well much later in life.

The highly impulsive and unpredictable nature of an ADHD individual makes the individual more likely to be a part of the criminal justice system. Treatment programs designed to develop skills to control impulses and exercise more control will benefit the individuals and society.

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