Approximately 96% of parents believe that proper education can make up for a child’s learning disorder, but a new study has provided substantial evidence that people with ADHD have brain structures that differ from neuro-typical individuals.
The data gathered has led scientists to believe that ADHD should be considered an issue of brain development, not of motivation or family dynamics. The study was published in the Lancet Psychiatry and was “the largest brain imaging study of its kind,” according to the Washington Post.
The study, conducted by a consortium called ENIGMA (Enhancing Neuro Imaging Genetics through Meta Analysis), included cranial scans from children, adolescents, and adults who are diagnosed with ADHD. Researchers reported that the biggest discrepancies in brain volume were present in children.
When compared to a control group, patients with ADHD experienced slower development in five out of seven regions in the brain, including the amygdala. The amygdala is responsible for regulating emotional responses and had the greatest volume reduction of the seven regions studied. This surprised researchers because while the amygdala is an important regulator in the brain, there was previously no evidence that suggested it was linked to ADHD.
Geneticist and study author Martine Hoogman of Radboud University in the Netherlands said the amygdala “is involved in emotion regulation and … in the process of [inhibiting] a response. Both cognitive processes are characteristic of ADHD, so it does make sense to have found this structure to be implicated in ADHD.”
In the past, small sample sizes have inhibited ADHD research and created unreliable results, but this study put much of that uncertain data to rest. Just as neglecting vehicles can cost the U.S. economy over $2 billion annually, neglecting proper research can have a great cost.
A grand total of 3,242 people from ages four to 63 were observed in the study. Almost half of the study participants undergoing MRI scans were control subjects, but the other half had ADHD.
Jonathan Posner, who wasn’t involved in the study but who does pediatric brain imaging research at Columbia University Medical School explained that this is something of a breakthrough in ADHD research.
“Because this study was orders of magnitude higher in terms of participants, and because it involved sampling broadly and internationally, it gives us more confidence,” he said.
The study has given other researchers hope for the future of ADHD research as well. Scientists knew that ADHD patients’ brains displayed small differences, but this most recent study has solidified claims that were once a bit cloudy.
Above all else, ENIGMA researchers hope that this study will help reduce some of the stigma that surrounds those people living with ADHD.