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I always think it's fascinating to read up on current research on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
Check out this article from the Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health (ACAMH):
"When in a relaxed state, the brains of children and adolescents with ADHD tend to fire differently to those without the disorder, although there don’t seem to be changes in the physical connections or ‘wiring’ of their brains."
One of the key differences, however, is in the brain development of the frontal cortex--kids with ADHD lag behind by two to five years in "abstract thought, decision-making and short-term memory."
But this doesn't quite explain why ADHD can continue on into adulthood. Most kids will leave this delay behind as they reach adulthood, but others don't.
But this is where I think it gets so interesting: when researchers looked at the parts of the brain that typically kick into gear when our brains are at rest (this is called the default mode network, or DMN).
They hooked up kids and adolescents with ADHD to different forms of imaging. And when researchers asked them to do a task, their DMN activated.
“The DMN is something we should only see when you’re doing nothing,” said Dr Dienke Bos of University Medical Centre Utrecht, one of the authors of the study. “In children with ADHD we see it pop up when we ask them to do something, which is probably associated with inattention,” she said.
This study was first published in 2017 and researchers are still following up on the data.
Back in 2015, I read a study that showed that ADHD is more than a behavioral problem; it’s a measurable difference in the way the brain makes connections.
Researchers developed a connection template by having non-ADHD adults complete a boring task (pressing a button when a picture of a city popped up on a screen) and studying their brains while they did it. Those who focused well on the task had certain common patterns in brain connections, and those who didn’t focus well had another set of similar patterns.
The team then looked at brain scans from an unrelated study of children in China. The data they examined also indicated an ADHD score for each child. Here’s the cool part: The children whose scans better fit the template associated with poor focus turned out to have scored high on the ADHD test, indicating a severe attention deficit. The opposite was also true–those whose brain scans looked like the scans of the adults who focused well had low ADHD scores.
The researchers say the technique isn’t ready for use in diagnosing ADHD, but it does provide valuable insight. As neuropsychologist Mark Mahone noted in an interview with NPR, “knowing how the brain is different in a disorder, we can look at ways to help ‘normalize’ the brain.”