Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects many children and teens. It is the most commonly diagnosed mental disorder of children and may also continue into adulthood. Kids with ADHD struggle with paying attention, completing tasks, and those with hyperactivity may have trouble controlling impulsivity. Adults with ADHD have difficulty with aspects of executive function like goal setting, time management, task initiation, and organization. For both children and adults, ADHD often affects self-esteem.
ADHD is linked to changes in production of the brain chemical dopamine, and scientists have found that ADHD is associated with lowered dopamine production. (Archives of General Psychiatry) Dopamine neurotransmitters oversee physical movement, thoughts, actions and play a vital role in motivation. In addition, dopamine affects how an individual learns and behaves. Dopamine is described as the neurotransmitter that turns motivation into action and is also involved in systems associated with response to reward (Funder, 2016, p 284).
Dr. Philip Shaw, a researcher in the Child Psychiatry Branch at the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has found that a variant in the dopamine D4 receptor gene (DRD4) is associated with ADHD and is linked with thinner tissue in areas of the brain that control attention. “If you have a certain variant of this gene, you have a greatly increased risk of having ADHD.” However, “what we found that was surprising was that having this variant was also associated with having a better outcome from ADHD,” he said. (abcnews.go.com)
This current research on ADHD and its association with a biochemical disorder due to the decreased function of the brain dopamine system is extremely insightful. Dr. Jon A. Shaw, professor and director of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine shared, “This is a very important study as it adds increasing evidence that ADHD is a heritable disease with genetically determined neurobiological underpinnings and adds further evidence that this is a valid mental disorder, often requiring neurobiological interventions (such as) psychopharmacological treatment.” The findings of this research are important because it belies the myth that ADHD is not a real disease but was just created “to sell medication,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse. She added, “This finding explains why stimulant medications, such as Ritalin, are beneficial, because they increase dopamine function in the brain.” (abcnews.go.com)
Studies on the brain share unmistakable evidence that ADHD is a real disease. It affects many children, teens and adults and can improve with the right treatment and support. Children can learn skills to manage their behavior, attention, and emotions with the help of parents, teachers and academic therapists. When ADHD is not treated, it is difficult for kids to succeed and may lead to low self-esteem, depression, failure at school, increased family conflict, and risk-taking and oppositional behavior. However, having ADHD does not mean that kids are doomed for failure. Parents, educators and therapists can teach children and teens to manage their symptoms. Here are some strategies that may be helpful:
Be compassionate, understanding and not critical.
Remember ADHD is treatable.
Stay connected with the school staff and follow up on a regular basis about your child’s Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan. These specialized services and accommodations will help maximize their potential and support.
Create structure for your child and help them stay organized.
Set rules and be consistent with expectations and consequences.
Offer praise and share positive feedback.
It’s important to recognize that children with ADHD don’t need to try harder they need special accommodations, support and understanding. “The kids who had the risk gene tended to get better,” Dr. Philip Shaw said. “They also tended to be a little bit more intelligent.” (abcnews.go.com) Teaching children specific skills to manage their deficits is the key to helping them succeed in school and later in life.
Archives of General Psychiatry
Funder, David C. The Personality Puzzle, Seventh Edition, 2016
Reinberg, Steven “Brain Studies Show ADHD Is Real Disease” March 23, 2018
Author, National Speaker/Trainer, Academic Therapist
Vikki empowers people! She is an author, national speaker, corporate trainer, and an Academic Therapist. Vikki grew up in Salt Lake City, met her husband at the University of Utah, and has owned several companies across the United States. In 2010, Vikki and her husband moved back to Utah, and she founded Vikki Carrel & Company, a speaking and training organization. While living in the East, Vikki was an Academic Therapist in the Central Bucks School District for several years. She received specialized training in teaching and implementing educational strategies to help students who perform below bench mark in reading and writing. Her strength is working with children that have ADHD, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia and other learning disabilities. Vikki is the author of Switching Lanes, Puzzle Pieces and co-author of Chloe’s Closet. As a co-founder of Two Balance, Inc. and Mother Daughter America she has empowered teens, collegians, and adults for over two decades. Vikki continues to draw from her impressive 25 years of experience as an entrepreneur, working in non-profit leadership and education to teach strategies that help individuals with resistance to change, the power of perception, reducing stress, increasing personal productivity and impression management. Vikki holds a degree in Business Administration/Marketing. She and her husband have two grown sons and a daughter in law.