Study: Brain differences in children with ADHD

March 26, 2018 GMT

Children with symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — commonly referred to as ADHD — may have significant differences in brain structure, compared to children without such symptoms, according to researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The study is the first comprehensive examination of brain structure changes in preschoolers with signs of ADHD, a disorder marked by a pattern of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. The study appears in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.

According to a news release from NIH, previous studies have documented brain differences in adolescents with ADHD. However, few studies have looked for such differences in preschoolers, despite research citing ADHD as the most commonly diagnosed psychological disorder among young children.

The American Psychiatric Association reports that roughly 5 percent of American children have ADHD. Boys are about 7 percent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls are.

The newly-released research was conducted at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. The study included 90 young children — 38 typically developing preschoolers and 52 preschoolers with symptoms of ADHD.

The children’s scans revealed that those with ADHD symptoms had multiple areas with less brain matter volume than their typical peers, and these differences were consistent with parent reports of hyperactive and impulsive behaviors.

The researchers cited challenges collecting data, mainly getting youngsters to lie still during the brain scan, particularly children with ADHD-associated behavior. It is possible that the children who were eventually scanned had more moderate symptoms and, therefore, were better suited to participate in the study. The authors speculated that children with more severe ADHD may have more pronounced brain differences.

Researchers will continue to follow the children, monitoring brain changes or differences as the they grow older. According to the NIH, the study provides the groundwork for future analysis of structural and functional brain changes in ADHD, which the researchers hope will provide new insights into how symptoms of the disorder relate to differences in the brain.