Scientific Breakthroughs

Researchers Say ADHD Should Be Categorized As a Neurological Condition, Not Just a Behavioral Problem

Researchers Say ADHD Should Be Categorized As a Neurological Condition, Not Just a Behavioral Problem
PHOTOGRAPH: UnderstoodOrg | What do you wish you had known sooner about parenting a child with ADHD?

Greater understanding of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, including how it may be considered a neurological condition rather than simply a behavioral problem, can let parents and mentors get a handle on how to handle it in children. A new study uncovered that ADHD sufferers have distinct differences in their brain structure.

The pool of scientists from different countries who conducted the research evaluated MRI scans plus other data on 3,200 individuals (with ages from four to 63 years) and compared 1,713 patients diagnosed with ADHD with a control group. They found smaller amygdala and hippocampus, and smaller intracranial volume, in individuals with ADHD.

The amygdala, an almond-shaped section of nervous tissue in the temporal lobe of the brain, is responsible for emotions. Within the brain also lies the hippocampus, which is associated mainly with memory and plays an important role in spatial navigation.

Dispelling Misconceptions

The findings pointing to children with the developmental disorder having some smaller brain regions were published in Lancet Psychiatry. Medical specialists, among them Toronto pediatric neurologist Dr. Evdokia Anagnostou, expressed hopes that the research will accomplish something long overdue — dispel misconceptions about children with the disorder.

Individuals with ADHD — who often manifest problems in impulse control, attention span, and activity level — may exhibit distress in many different ways. When left untreated, the developmental disorder may have an impact not only on the sufferer’s school performance and overall well-being.

It can be nerve-wracking for the patient’s family, too, moreso because lots of people tend to regard the outward signs as an offshoot of lazy parenting, overconsumption of sugar, too many video games, inability to discipline, willful misbehavior, or even moral failing on the child’s part. In many instances, ADHD-confirmed children who showed trouble paying attention in school were discriminated.

Yet there are people who struggled with the disorder yet moved on to become successful individuals. A clear-cut illustration is Olympic swimming champ Michael Phelps, who channeled his problem in focusing into swimming, aided by his family’s continuous praise and positive reinforcement.

Rising Cases, Increasing Drug Therapy Use

Countries like the U.S. and Canada have had an upswing in the incidence of the developmental disorder over the years. A study by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (headquartered in Ontario) found almost 12 per cent of kids and youth with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, were prescribed with antipsychotics like Risperdal.

Senior author Dr. Paul Kurdyak, head of the mental health and addictions program at ICES, underscored that there are alternatives, even as  physicians and mental health professionals advocate both medication and pharmacological treatment for ADHD-diagnosed kids.  Yet for parents with young kids whose rages have overwhelmed schools and child care programs for years, stimulant medication has offered a measure of relief and hope, notwithstanding the risks.

Treatment Options

The Child Mind Institute, an independent non-profit organization in New York, recently tweeted the side effects of ADHD medication. Some of them  are irritability and moodiness, delayed growth, stomach aches and tics, things that should be brought to a doctor’s attention. Healthy eating, music, physical activity and early behavior therapy are some of the things that can help a child with the disorder.

In his book, Running on Ritalin, developmental pediatrician Dr. Lawrence Diller cited both the non-drug treatment options and drug interventions for ADHD, a condition which he described as having “complex realities.” Dr. Diller also wrote, “I believe brain chemistry expresses itself as personality,  that this is inherent and exerts a powerful influence on behavior, but that environment — especially for children — also plays a critical role.”


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