A new study suggests that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children may be a matter of maturity.
According to the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, ADHD in children is caused when portions of the brain mature at a slower pace than normal. For many, the condition eventually normalizes and nearly 80 percent of children grow out of the disorder, the researchers found.
Researchers used a new image-analysis technique to measure the thickening and thinning of thousands of cortex sites in 223 children with ADHD and 223 children without the disorder for the study. Scientists found that the cortex sites in children with the disorder reached peak thickness three years later, on average, than those in children without the disorder.
“There has been debate about whether ADHD is a delay or deviance from normal brain development,” the lead author of the study, Dr. Philip Shaw, told the Los Angeles Times, “This study comes down strongly in favor of delay.”
The cause for the delay in brain maturation which causes ADHD is unknown, but there is evidence that both genetic and environmental factors influence brain development.
At early ages, environmental factors that influence the inattention and lack of self control associated with ADHD may include certain parenting and teaching techniques, according to another study published in the same month in Developmental Psychology. The study found that self-control and maturity levels were affected by family life and filtered into the classroom setting.
“Kids are not going to behave well in classrooms if you treat them overly harshly, if you are unresponsive, or if you don’t provide an organized structure for them to participate in,” said Robert Bradley, an author of the study.
While impulsive, over-active and inattentive children do not necessarily have ADHD, Bradley asserted that harsh external factors are likely to encourage bad behavior in children genetically predisposed to the disorder. Dr. Don Shiffrin of the American Academy of Pediatrics offers several steps which parents can take to diminish environmental factors that may affect ADHD.
“Organize your house. Have specific places for schoolwork, toys and clothes. Charts and checklists can be helpful to track progress, but keep instructions brief and offer frequent friendly reminders,” Shiffrin says. “When a child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, the smallest things can be the biggest distractions.” There is some disagreement about the actual number of children with ADHD. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) states that it occurs in three to five percent of all children, but other estimates are far higher or lower.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics website, the number of children who are being treated with ADHD has risen, and children are being treated with medications for longer periods.
“It is not clear whether more children have ADHD or more children are being diagnosed,” the website says.