Understanding Attention Deficit Disorder

When the experts can’t seem to agree, what’s a parent to do? We posted recently about two apparently contradictory studies about ADHD diagnosis, one that highlighted a significant increase in diagnoses, and another that indicated that as many as a million kids are misdiagnosed. In the NY Times 18 and Under column, Dr. Perri Klass picks up this theme in a recent segment, “Untangling the Myths about Attention Deficit Disorder.”

Dr. Klass describes how in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the sense remains that ADHD is not a real medical challenge, but is rather an effect of our multitasking, distracted, and overscheduled lives. But, as Klass points out, there are examples in the literature that go back 150 years that describe children who struggled with attention (well before television corrupted their ability to focus). And, as we have also pointed out, recent studies have gone a long way towards establishing the neurological foundation of attention challenges. From Klass column:

  • Imaging studies of people with attention deficits have shown a consistent pattern of below-normal activity in the brain’s frontal lobes, where so-called executive function resides.
  • paper last month [identified] a gene, LPHN3, that is associated both with [ADHD] and with a favorable response to stimulants.

Though studies do point to a genetic root to ADHD, recent research has also identified environmental factors that increase the likelihood of developing attention challenges in children who may have a genetic predisposition towards the disorder. And we know that the active engagement in language with children is critical for developing attention and focus (and that TV and the Internet don’t help). In short, it’s complicated.

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