— Podcast

#27: The ADHD brain

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The ADHD Smarter Parenting Podcasts will be released twice a week on Monday and Wednesday until the end of 2019.

In 2017, a study was published in The Lancet Psychiatry Journal about differences in the ADHD brain. By studying those with ADHD and those without ADHD, researchers found small differences in brain mass between adults and kids with ADHD and those without ADHD. The difference was most noticeable in kids and less noticeable in adults. Knowing this information is a significant first step to understanding ADHD even better.

Their findings suggested that ADHD is a disorder of the brain with delays in the development of specific brain regions. This may account for why kids with ADHD tend to act out and have difficulty with being able to control their behavior.

Behavioral strategies for ADHD allows kids to learn specific tools that will enable them to manage their ADHD symptoms. Neuroplasticity of the brain, or being able to train the brain, is possible. Some things can be done to strengthen the ADHD brain and make it stronger, including behavior skills. ADHD behavior management strategies should include the behavior skills taught on SmarterParenting.com.

If ADHD is a disorder of the brain, why aren’t we able to better study or diagnosis it through a test? An MRI only shows a snapshot of what is happening in the brain at that moment. Which doesn’t always give a complete picture of behavior. An ADHD diagnosis is made only after behavior is observed over an amount of time, and that behavior meets criteria.

This study is exciting research for ADHD and a great beginning to understanding better how the ADHD brain works.

Retraining your child with ADHD brain can be frustrating. Having an ADHD Parenting Coaching allows for clarity and helps you feel confident in what you’re doing. For a limited time, we are offering free 15-minute mini-sessions. Sign-up today.

For full show transcript visit https://www.smarterparenting.com/coaching

Episode Transcript

Well hello everyone. I am super excited to announce that Smarter Parenting will begin releasing two podcasts every week, from now until the end of the year. We’re doing this because there is so much information that we want to share with you. This will include podcasts that I present information in, and also podcasts where we have guests. So tune in and pay attention because we have a lot to share with you.

Hello, this is episode 27.

Smarter Parenting welcomes you to our podcast series, The Parenting Coach for ADHD. Here to heal and elevate lives is your parenting coach, Siope Kinikini.

Today is a great day. And welcome, welcome, my friends. I hope everybody is having a great day. There’s a lot going on. I actually have a brace on my left hand, too much typing I think, and so trying to watch that so I don’t injure it further. But who would have thought? Years ago, we had people working out in fields, farmers and they were plowing and so they did all this kind of work. And in my work I type quite a bit, and so my injuries compared to their injuries, I mean, I don’t mean to minimize carpal tunnel or anything like that, but I’m just saying I thought it interesting that there were people doing really hard laborers jobs, and here I am typing and my having problems with my hands.

So anyways, the only reason I bring that up is because my father actually was an immigrant and he came into the United States before I was born. I was born here in the United States, but he worked really hard and he came here actually to go to school, and so he enrolled into college. But the needs of the family actually outweighed everything else, and so he had to work, consistently work. And so he never did finish school, but it was a dream for his children to be able to do that, and so I ended up going to school. And, of course, if you’ve listened to the previous podcast about my experience with school and struggling with ADHD, you would realize that it was quite a miracle that I actually made it through school. But I did very well overall in school once I was able to hone in on the skills that I needed in order to be productive with ADHD.

Anyways, yeah, and thinking back about my dad, just a lot of hard work. He worked multiple jobs and I’m just grateful for the sacrifice he made. But I remember shaking his hand and he would have actually really rough hands because of the work that he did. But I’m super grateful for his sacrifice because his sacrifice actually makes it easier for me in my life. And now I’m doing a job that he would want me to do, which is not hard labor or long hours. He would want me to be able to use intellect and my brain and things like that to better the world if that makes any sense in teaching additional things. And so I’m very, very grateful for him and his sacrifice.

Anyways, that’s off-topic but that’s why I bring that up is I just find it humorous that my dad worked so hard to provide so much for me and here I am with my wrist.

Anyway, today, what we are going to discuss is the ADHD brain and we’re going to talk about a study that was done in order to evaluate people who struggle with ADHD and people who do not and measuring them. Now, if you remember from a previous podcast on how ADHD is diagnosed, you would realize that ADHD is diagnosed by meeting with a clinician and actually going over a checklist and evaluating where there are attention or hyperactivity issues that are happening with a child. And so that’s the way that it is done. There is no medical tests. You can’t go in and take a blood test for ADHD. They just don’t do that. And they’ve also done studies on brain scans with children and adults with ADHD, but there is still no test for that. You cannot go in and have an MRI for ADHD to test whether or not you have ADHD.

So I wanted to talk about this test. It happened in 2017, and I’m going to be using some notes because I think the information is important and I want to be sure that I get it correct. But there was a study that was done and it was published actually in the Lancet Psychiatry Journal.

So what they did is that they studied the brain structure. It was an international study, but they studied the brain structure of 1,713 people with the diagnosis of ADHD. They also tested 1,529 people without ADHD. So this is a huge sample size, roughly around 3,242 people. So they had an MRI scan. Now, the range of ages for the people that had taken this test were from the ages of four to 63, so we’re talking this decade-span of people struggling with ADHD and we’re talking about a huge size, a group of people internationally who have been diagnosed with ADHD and those who have not been diagnosed with ADHD.

Now, it’s important to understand that they needed to do a vast size group in order to really evaluate this, and I’m glad that they took the time because it’s a huge group. I mean, if you think about it, that’s a lot of people to be testing, right? 3,242 people who are having these scans of their brains so they can evaluate if there are any differences.

Now, I’m just going to read this. So the 3,242 people had an MRI scan to measure the overall brain volume and the size of seven regions of the brain that were thought to be linked to ADHD. The pallidum, the thalamus, the caudate nucleus, putamen, nucleus accumbens, amygdala, and hippocampus. Now, the researchers also noted whether those with ADHD had ever taken psychostimulant medication, for example, if they had taken Ritalin.

The study found, and this is interesting, the study found that overall brain volume and five of the regional volumes were smaller in people with ADHD. These differences are super-small. This is a quote, “The differences are super small in the range of a few percent.” So the reason it was needed to have such a large size tested is that they were able to notice that there were really small percentage differences. Similar differences in brain volume are also seen in other psychiatric disorders, especially major depressive disorder. And that was said by Dr. Martine Hoogman from Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands.

The major differences were actually found in children with ADHD, but less obvious in adults with the disorder. And based on this, the researchers propose that ADHD is a disorder of the brain and suggests that delays in developmental and several brain regions are characteristic in ADHD. So a lot of times, we look at a children with ADHD and then we believe, “Okay, this behavior is ADHD, hands down it’s ADHD.” And then over time, we’re like, “Oh, it could be something else or what’s happening?” But again, I had mentioned that over time and exposure and experience, a lot of times people learn to develop very specific skills that are useful for them in overcoming ADHD and I think that in this case, this is something that is very similar to that.

So anyways, they found that with children with ADHD, the symptomology was actually larger and there was more behavior of acting out and inability to control and maintain. The results from the study confirmed that people with ADHD have differences in their brain structure and therefore suggest that ADHD is a disorder of the brain. Now, here comes the question. Why then if it’s a disorder of the brain, why can’t we study it? Why can’t we just go in and take an MRI and then receive the diagnosis? Why do we have to keep track overtime? Talk to a clinician and do evaluations about the behaviors that we notice? The answer to that is actually fairly simple. When you go in to have an MRI or any evaluation of your brain, it’s actually taking a picture of the moment. The difficulty is actually watching the brain work in different environments at different times.

So think of it this way. If I were to take a snapshot of something, I’m only capturing that image in time. I’m not actually capturing anything else. I don’t see how the brain is working when it’s under complete stress or when it’s in a classroom full of noise. When you’re doing these tests for the brain, an MRI scan or any other scans that you may be doing for the brain, you’re only capturing that moment in time, which is why you can’t really test for the ADHD because you’re not seeing any other stimulation, things happening.

Does that mean that that can’t happen in the future? Who knows? This idea that perhaps virtual reality in the kids who are walking through somebody in a situation can stimulate those while and MRI or while something is happening, possibility. I mean, it is a real possibility. I hope that science can create a way for us to test this further down the line with gaming technology and our ability to actually create virtual worlds. I’m thinking in the future that, and I’m hoping, and this is super geeky of me and I know it’s like Star Trek or Star Wars, probably more Star Trek because Star Wars is more… I’m not going to get into that, but I am a fan. Anyways, it’s probably more Star Trek, but this idea that we can create this reality and then have people interact with that virtual reality and then test their brains would be great. Or actually being able to take these images or these scans of a brain and evaluate the brain while the child is involved in whatever they’re involved with, would help us further understand how an ADHD brain works in stressful and often uncertain circumstances.

So I thought it was super interesting that we bring this topic up because I think it’s important for people to understand specifically people who struggle with understanding ADHD, that there is a difference in brain in a person with ADHD and their brain and someone who is not. It’s a small percentage according to this study. It’s a very small percentage of a difference there. However, there is a difference. And so further research is needed and I’m sure they’re going to continue to do additional studies to follow up on this and find out more information, but I just feel like it’s super important.

I’ve heard it over and over again where people are like, “Ah, it’s just made up. He just made that up. It’s not really a real thing. It’s not a big deal.” But there is a brain disorder happening when ADHD happens and so really working with your brain and focusing treatment on how we can adjust the brain to strengthen it and make it stronger, specifically with skills. These things are the things that will help your child improve.

Later on down the line, we will talk about neuroplasticity and the brain. The ability for the brain to heal itself in many ways and actually teach itself. The brain is such a malleable thing that really it’s super, super powerful. And if we find ways to help shape the brain, we can actually help shape the way that our behavior is displayed. But neuroplasticity and the brain and working with ADHD are really something that I am fascinated about and especially moving forward as we talk to some additional professionals who help us understand how to really work through some of these issues in helping the brain work better and function more effectively.

Anyways, great topic. It’s a wonderful topic. Just know that there is a difference between people who have an ADHD brain or people with ADHD and people who have not been diagnosed with ADHD.

If you want more information, jump over to the Smarter Parenting website because we have some additional information specifically about this topic, the ADHD brain. And we’ll include a link to this study so you can go ahead and take a look at it because I think it would be super helpful for some parents to give them a little sense of comfort that it isn’t anything that you did and it’s not something that you fed your child or anything like that. It really is a brain disorder, but it’s something that is workable. Absolutely workable.

Smarter Parenting is offering coaching, and so I just wanted to give a shout out for anyone who is looking to do some individual coaching, feel free to sign up. You can find it over on the Smarter Parenting website and we’ll just walk through some of the issues that you’re focused on. It’s very individualized and very specific to whatever it is that you may need.

So, that’s it for me. And again, super grateful for you. Thank you for listening, and if this has been useful for you, feel free to share it with somebody else who could benefit from learning a little bit more about ADHD. And I’m specifically talking about family and people who are involved in your child’s life or in your life who don’t really understand it. All right?

That’s it from me. All right, I’ll talk to you later.



Resources discussed in this episode

Subcortical brain volume differences in participants with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adults

Free 15-minute Parenting Coaching mini-session

Improve ADHD by understanding emotional intelligence

Podcast Transcript

The transcript text is below. You can also download the PDF file of the transcript here.