Friday, September 19, 2014

New Study Shows That Brains of Children with ADHD Mature More Slowly

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is one of the most commonly diagnosed psychiatric disorders among children. Increasingly, practitioners are able to recognize its symptoms; its cause, however, has been a bit murkier. Past imaging has revealed that brain maturation seems to occur later among children with ADHD than in those who do not have difficulty with attention. Now, a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has added further data to the late maturation observation: researchers found that brain connections that help with focus don’t develop at the same time in the brains of children with ADHD as in the brains of their peers.

A key finding was the interaction between two networks, the default mode network (DMN) and the task positive network (TPN). On default mode, when the DMN is in control, the brain falls into daydreaming or stream-of-consciousness thinking. The DMN is activated in even typically-developing brains when a person is between tasks or fatigued. Among children with ADHD, however, the DMN interrupts the brain’s productive TPN. These kids seem less able to turn off their default modes at will, causing them to shift into daydreaming mode. Instead of using his TPN to focus on what he’s doing or plan for what comes next, a child may tune out.

Saad Faruque via Flickr CC
Happily, thanks to neuroplasticity, brains can be rewired throughout our lives; even the neurons in adults’ brains can change in response to experience. Teaching children who suffer from ADHD to recognize those moments when their default mode network fails to switch off and giving them strategies to get focused could help many kids to “outgrow” ADHD.

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