AD/HD: A Neurobiological Condition

The following article has been published with kind permission from Holly Seerley, MFT

Have you have seen the poem about planning a trip to Italy and landing in Holland? Preparations are made with Italy in mind but the plane lands in Holland. First there’s confusion, then protest, then acceptance. It’s a metaphor for parenting a special needs child or being someone with AD/HD. The expected journey doesn’t happen. A friend suggested that parenting her AD/HD boy is more like ending up in a war zone than Holland or Italy, never sure what the day will bring.


We are the professionals that parents of an AD/HD child or couples (often not diagnosed) turn to for help. We must provide relevant and effective therapy so the unexpected bumps in the road are less likely to ruin the family’s trip.


Thankfully, the current world of brain research has much to offer the field of psychotherapy. AD/HD is a neurobiological disorder that affects behavior and family functioning and responds best to a combination of medications plus behavioral interventions and community supports according to the ongoing NIMH research study. Current AD/HD Research Facts:


  • AD/HD is as inheritable as height (and therefore not really anybody’s fault).
  • It’s most common to have co-occurring conditions affecting mood, behavior, learning.
  • The divorce rate for parents of AD/HD children is significantly higher.
  • Dopamine, a neurotransmitter potentiating the experience of pleasure (therefore motivation), malfunctions.
  • Mirror neurons in the brain, active when we observe and relate to someone else’s experience, are less active in those with problems taking social perspective.
  • A delay in myelinization causes a 30% lag in the development of executive functioning skills (the metaphoric conductor of the symphony or control tower at the airport).
  • Slow processing speed (resulting in low boredom tolerance) unless engaged in highly interesting or threatening situations.


Our professional training tells us that 1) parents are usually not grieving and coping in tandem while facing a child’s chronic medical condition and 2) chronic family stress exacerbates other pre-existing conditions in the family. Parents report well-meaning relatives and friends and teachers criticize their parenting and don’t understand their child. We, therefore, can “get it” that those with AD/HD in the family are dealing with a serious but invisible chronic neurobiological condition that is a high-impact stressor.


Effective AD/HD medication often results in significant improvement in daily functioning (assisting consistent dopamine utilization). Crisis management becomes no longer front and center. Parents can now address their own grief, parenting strengths and default coping habits, while learning parenting approaches that are more likely to succeed with the AD/HD child. They can return to normative tasks of intimacy and adult development.


AD/HD is a usually a life-long condition with developmental phases bringing new and different challenges. Well-informed parents, teens and adults are better prepared to respond constructively and proactively to the developmental ups and downs along the AD/HD journey.


In conclusion, our role as psychotherapists can be key in helping parents and individuals with AD/HD:


  • Learn how their brain works
  • Collaborate with other AD/HD professionals and support services
  • Move forward with a new research-based perspective and new coping skills
  • Understand how this chronic stressor has exacerbated their default maladaptive coping mechanisms and strengthened their coping assets
  • Help them grieve and move on
  • Learn different methods of parenting than those that work for their neurotypical children
  • And understand that no one is to blame.



Holly Seerley, MFT. 415-924-6656. Corte Madera and Mill Valley.


Private practice since 1979. Psychodynamic, psycho-educational, narrative, and CBT for individuals, families, and couples. Supervision and training. Past President of both The Association of Family Therapists of Northern California and The Marin Child Abuse Council. Facilitator, Marin CHADD’s Parent Share Group and Certified CHADD Parent to Parent Teacher w/a class starting early 2007. She thanks her son Dash for informing and motivating her own journey to understand AD/HD and its impact on everyone in the family.