In recent years it has become fashionable in some circles for people to equate ADHD with being a boy. The lack of understanding about what ADHD is, or what is different about being a boy with ADHD from a boy without ADHD does not seem to give pause to certainty of their opinions. Just last week, I was subjected to one of these passionate diatribes by a Professor teaching in a division of health human resources about the “medicalization of childhood” (his words, not mine). When I gently reminded him about the brain imaging research on ADHD, his response was not with interest in what had been found, but in denying its importance completely. “Everyone knows boys are driven by their emotions,” was his reply. Strange, the last time I checked emotional regulation was a brain function.
A recent study reported in the June 2011 edition of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (Neuroanatomical and neurophsyological correlates of the cerebellum in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder – combined type) has added new and more detailed information about brain structures in children who have ADHD. In this study, the researchers found that a particular brain structure, called the posterior inferior vermis was significantly smaller in children with ADHD than in controls. A finding that is consistent with a fairly large number of studies demonstrating cerebellar differences in young people with ADHD. As the cerebellum is important for impulse control, shifting of attention and motor coordination, these finding are very important for they may explain in part many of the symptoms found in ADHD. A collateral finding, that medications which are effective in treating ADHD impact this part of the brain, lends further support for this consideration.
So what does all this mean for the opinionated Professor and his dogmatic but uniformed certainty? Perhaps it is time to start teaching neurodevelopment in all human services training programs. If you are studying to be a social worker, a teacher, a psychologist, a child and youth worker, a nurse, a doctor, etc., you need to know neurodevelopment and understand how brain function underlies human experience, emotions and behavior. While it may be too late for us to change the Professor’s stigma, the worse since it is cloaked in profundity and ignorance while concurrently enjoying the status of his position, we may be able to encourage reason and curiosity in the next generation of teachers, health providers and professors.