ADHD and the Brain


Although the cause of ADHD is unknown, the theories abound. Some believe it is associated with subtle differences in brain structure. Brain scans reveal a number of subtle changes in the brains of those diagnosed with ADHD. In fact, one of the former names used for ADHD was “minimal brain disorder.”

Others say it’s related to neural pathways, neurotransmitters or brain chemistry — particularly abnormalities in the brain chemical dopamine. Still other researchers believe ADHD is related to the brain’s blood supply or electrical system. Recent research has raised the question of whether frequent exposure in early childhood to rapid electronic stimuli (such as television and computers) might contribute to this problem.

Richard Degrandpre, in his book Ritalin Nation: Rapid-Fire Culture and The Transformation of Human Consciousness, theorizes about what he calls a “sensory addiction phenomenon.” He feels that many of the behaviors seen in ADHD people stem from a sensory bombardment from TV programs, movies, computers and so on. He feels that early exposure to this sensory bombardment, especially at a time when the brain is just forming connections and synapses, may result in biological or neurological effects, including, but not limited to, ADHD.

Degrandpre believes that these effects can be exaggerated in the absence of parental structure. We live in a world that is incredibly stimulating; there are constant stimuli in the life of even a young child. I don’t know that we can get rid of all that, but I know that I can encourage parents to provide a loving, warm, structured environment so children can learn to deal with all the stimuli.

One piece of data that may support Degrandpre’s theory is the experience of the Amish, who are known to forego computers and television. This keeps their children from this type of stimulation; ADHD appears to be uncommon among the Amish. Researchers have reported that among 200 Amish children followed prospectively and compared with the non-Amish population, symptoms of ADHD were unusual.

Used with permission from Why ADHD Doesn’t Mean Disaster by Dennis Swanberg, Diane Passno and Walter L. Larimore, M.D. A Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers

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