By On March 6th, 2017

ADHD Isn’t Caused By Parenting, But It May Be Caused By Changes In The Brain

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has been formally recognized by mental health professionals for years, but the disorder is still heavily stigmatized among many people – especially when children are diagnosed with it.

There are a number of people who dismiss the existence of ADHD or minimize its effects by suggesting children with ADHD are not being properly disciplined by parents. However, a recent study published in Lancet Psychiatry indicates ADHD may be the result of observable changes in the brain.

Based on their findings, researchers at Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen, Netherlands say ADHD should be categorized as a brain disorder.

“We hope that this will help to reduce stigma that ADHD is ‘just a label’ for difficult children or caused by poor parenting. This is definitely not the case, and we hope that this work will contribute to a better understanding of the disorder,” said study author Martine Hoogman.

Hoogman and colleagues examined the largest pool of participants of all ages with ADHD for a study of this kind, comparing scans of their brains against those without the disorder. While some smaller studies have found changes in the brains of those with ADHD, this is the largest study to confirm the discrepancies.

The team says the scans showed people with ADHD have slower development of five distinct brain regions. Some of these regions were not particularly surprising to the researchers, such as regions linked to impulse and attention control. However, they say they also identified two new regions that seemed to be shrunken in those with ADHD: the amygdala and hippocampus. These regions are associated with emotional processing and may explain some of the behavioral and emotional issues experienced by those with ADHD.

“The fact that the amygdala was a particular region where they saw the largest effect, or the biggest difference between patients and non-patients, speaks to the importance of emotional symptoms in ADHD,” says Dr. Jonathan Posner, associate professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study. “Kids with ADHD often have emotional reactivity and poor frustration tolerance. Those symptoms aren’t given as much focus as they should be given.”

While the study suggests MRI scans can identify brain abnormalities in those with ADHD, Posner says it is premature and impractical to use this method to identify ADHD on a larger scale. Before that could be done, he says more research is needed.

Posner is still hopeful that the research can help improve diagnosis and treatment of ADHD in the future. “This helps us to learn more about the brain mechanisms that underlie the symptoms,” he says. “With that information, the long-term goal is to develop better and more refined treatments that might target those regions.”

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