Target Health Blog

Atypical Brain Development Observed in Preschoolers with ADHD Symptoms

April 2, 2018


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental disorder of the neurodevelopmental type, characterized by a pattern of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior not age appropriate. The symptoms appear 1) before a person is 12 years old, 2) are present for more than six months, and 3) cause problems in at least two settings (such as school, home, or recreational activities).

According to an article published in Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society (26 March 2018), children as young as 4 years old with symptoms of ADHD may have significant differences in brain structure, compared to children without such symptoms. The study is the first comprehensive examination of brain structure changes in preschoolers with signs of ADHD. Previous studies have documented brain differences in adolescents with ADHD. However, few studies have looked for such differences in preschoolers, despite research citing ADHD as the most commonly diagnosed psychological disorder among young children. 

The study included 90 young children: 38 typically developing preschoolers and 52 preschoolers with symptoms of ADHD. Results showed that the children's scans revealed that those with ADHD symptoms had multiple areas with less brain matter volume than their typical peers, and these differences were consistent with parent reports of hyperactive and impulsive behaviors. The authors cited challenges collecting data, mainly getting youngsters to lie still during the brain scan, particularly children with ADHD-associated behavior. It is possible that the children who were eventually scanned had more moderate symptoms and, therefore, were better suited to participate in the study. The authors speculated that children with more severe ADHD may have more pronounced brain differences. The authors will continue to follow the children, monitoring brain changes or differences as the they grow older. The study provides the groundwork for future analysis of structural and functional brain changes in ADHD, which the authors hope will provide new insights into how symptoms of the disorder relate to differences in the brain.

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