The increasing diagnosis of ADD and ADHD in children has led to many studies questioning the effects of ADD/ADHD medication and brain development. There has been concern that the medication is affecting the growth of the brain, which has been shown to be smaller in children with ADD/ADHD.
Through the use of high resolution digital imagery, showing three dimensional scans of the brain, it has been found that children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder have some significant anatomical differences in certain brain structures. Similar studies indicate that children and adolescents with ADHD have 3-4% smaller brain mass.
Even though there has been concern among many that it is the ADHD medications that are causing these deficiencies, studies have been revealing that this is not likely the case. There are questions as to when the developmental delays actually started, and whether or not the development delay was caused by outside factors before medication was introduced or even by the condition itself.
And, although the overall brain volume does tend to be smaller in size in those who have been diagnosed with ADHD, the development of the brain itself does not seem to really be affected at all. In fact, one study that was carried out over a ten year period indicates that brain size varied considerably among all children, and affected children actually undergo normal brain development.
The findings in this study showed that brain volumes were even larger in some cases in children with the disorder, compared to those without. The results of this study are published in the October edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association. (1)
One area that does show consistent differences among children with the disorder is the cerebellum. This is a region at the back of the brain that is believed to be involved in motor coordination, but also may influence other activities as well. In all children affected by ADHD, the cerebellum is generally six percent smaller in volume than in other children.
There have been many parents and medical practitioners who question whether drugs such as Ritalin, which are commonly prescribed to treat the symptoms associated with ADD/ADHD, are causing delays in development of the brain, but this appears to have been proven otherwise by the latest studies.
Although there are differences in size, especially in common areas in the brain, there does not appear to be any actual delays in development of the brain overall. These finding should offer reassurance to all parents who have children who are taking these medications.
These findings may still be in early stages, but they do offer the hope that perhaps they are getting closer to understanding the exact areas of the brain that are affected by the disorder itself, and perhaps even gaining a better understanding in possible causes. The findings that ADHD medication and brain development delays are not related, can help researchers get closer to uncovering other possible answers in the mystery of ADD and ADHD in children.
(1) JAMA: Developmental Trajectories of Brain Volume Abnormalities in Children and Adolescents with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
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