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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a chronic developmental and biobehavioral disorder which originally manifests itself during childhood and is distinguished by inattentiveness, impulsivity, and hyperactivity (Phillips & Mersch, 2012).
However, it is vital to mention that a majority of persons affected by ADHD are usually inattentive. The disorder can result in difficulty in emotional, social, occupational, and academic functioning. There are 3 main types of ADHD i.e. the predominantly inattentive type, the predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type, and the combination of the two. The diagnosis of ADHD is made according to the meeting specific criteria and may be linked with other learning, neurological, and behavioral disabilities. Treatments include using medications, behavioral therapy as well as modification of daily lifestyle activities.
Studies conducted in the United States showed that an estimated 8%-10% of children meet the diagnostic criteria for this disorder making it one of the most regular childhood disorders (Phillips & Mersch, 2012). ADHD affects boys more than girls. Though it is believed that the disorder is outgrown by adulthood, recent studies show that numerous children are likely to continue with symptoms of ADHD throughout their lives, which may affect both their social and occupational functioning. According to Phillips and Mersch (2012), certain medical researchers have noted that nearly 40%-50% of children with hyperactive ADHD are likely to have non-hyperactive symptoms of the disorder persisting into their adulthood. This paper looks into what happens in the brain of a person with ADHD, the areas of the brain affected as well as the way the condition is diagnosed and treated.
What Happens in the Brain of a Person with ADHD?
Research shows that the brains of people with ADHD have a relatively smaller size of certain brain areas than those of typical development. Specifically, the cerebellum, the basal ganglia, the frontal lobe, and the cortex have smaller mass (Jennifer, 2012). Consequently, these affected areas of the brain become less active resulting in less blood flow in them. The basal ganglia are the motor and inhibitory center of the brain. However, because of their smaller mass in people with ADHD, they do not function properly leading to increased hyperactivity and reduced inhibition. For instance, such a person may find himself talking endlessly. The cerebellum on the other hand, is the hotspot of motor coordination, sequencing, and thinking. The reduced size of the cerebellum in people with ADHD makes it difficult for them organize their behaviors, or thoughts fast to accomplish a goal.
Areas of the Brain Affected by ADHD
Studies show that ADHD only affects certain brain areas such as the frontal lobes, limbic system, cortex, the reticular system, basal ganglia and the cerebellum (Jennifer, 2012). The frontal lobes are located in front of the brain and are helpful in concentration, learning, remembering, and making sound decisions. They also help in paying attention to a task up to completion. Research has linked the sluggish brain wave activity of the frontal lobes to ADHD symptoms. In addition, persons with ADHD have frontal lobes that are reduced in size (Hughes, 2012). The limbic system is located at the base of the brain, and it plays the role of alerting people of dangerous situations. Persons with ADHD have brains with malfunctioning limbic systems and are likely to be either hypersensitive to their surroundings or have emotional outbursts (Jennifer, 2012).
The cortex acts like the impulse control center of the body. In people with ADHD, the cortex’s inhibitory mechanisms do not function appropriately leading to no or little control of impulse in some situations. The reticular activating system is situated in the brain stem at the back of the head and is responsible for controlling sleeping and waking patterns as well as the capability to focus attention. This system does not function normally in the brains of persons with ADHD (Jennifer, 2012).
Diagnosing if a person has ADHD involves numerous steps. This is because several other problems such as depression, learning disabilities, and even anxiety can have the same symptoms as ADHD; therefore, no single test can satisfactorily diagnose this disorder. Examples of methods for ADHD diagnosis are radiological imaging, medical examination, laboratory tests as well as psychiatric assessment (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Usually, a medical exam is done on the individual with ADHD to rule out the possibility of other diseases with similar symptoms. Some of the things looked out for in a medical/ physical exam include any undetected vision or hearing problems, any learning disabilities, undetected seizures, depression or anxiety as well as any sudden significant sudden changes in the person’s life like job loss, divorce, or demise of a loved one (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).
Another diagnostic method is the use of a checklist to rate ADHD symptoms. For a child to be diagnosed with ADHD, he/she ought to have exhibited ADHD symptoms for a minimum of six months continuously, begin exhibiting symptoms before he is seven years old, and he must have been showing the ADHD signs in a minimum of two dissimilar settings i.e. at school and home (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). In addition, the symptoms ought to be making the academic and social life of the child significantly difficult. Diagnosis of adults with ADHD is a bit difficult and necessitates that their symptoms cause a fair extent of impairment in diverse areas of their lives like underachievement in school or at work, difficulty in conducting everyday activities such as shopping, driving dangerously, difficulty in socializing as well as in maintaining relationships (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).
There is not one single treatment for ADHD, but rather a combination of behavioral therapy and medications has produced the best results in managing the disorder (Martin, 2010). Stimulant and non-stimulant medications are used in the treatment of ADHD. Stimulants balance and boost of the neurotransmitters’ level in the brain aid to the improvement of the symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Examples include Methylphenidate (i.e. Ritalin), and Dextroamphetamine-amphetamine (i.e. Adderall) (Martin, 2010). It is vital to note that stimulants only work for a short period of time. Non-stimulant drugs are given to people who are unresponsive to stimulants or those who experience side effects while using stimulants. The example of a non-stimulant used in the treatment of ADHD is Atomoxetine, which helps to reduce anxiety (Martin, 2010). Behavioral therapy, on the other hand, involves creating a routine (following the same schedule on a daily basis from morning to evening) and avoiding distractions (turning off the radio, computer, TV, particularly when a child with ADHD doing homework).
ADHD is a developmental disorder that is distinguished by inattentiveness, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. There are 3 main types of ADHD i.e. the predominantly inattentive type, the predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type, and the combination of the two. 8%-10% of children in the U.S. are diagnosed with this disorder. Treatment includes a combination of both behavioral therapy and medications. There are stimulant and non-stimulant medications. Examples include Ritalin (stimulants), Atomoxetine (non-stimulants) and avoiding distractions (behavioral therapy).