Published in the highly respected The Lancet Psychiatry, researchers looked at the brain volumes of 3,200 people with ADHD. They found brain differences in those areas of the brain that would correlate with the problems ADHD children and adults report, proving it’s a real condition, it’s not just our imagination, and disproving the claim “everyone has ‘ADHD'”.
A Word of caution: Whenever I see research like this, I know that some will think “So ADHD is real. Our brains are different. It’s genetic.”
Well, the danger here is confusing real with genetic, and genetic with “unchangeable.”
What We Can Learn from Other Disorders
In this report in science daily, they quote Dr Martine Hoogman of Radboud University as saying:
“…Similar differences in brain volume are also seen in other psychiatric disorders, especially major depressive disorder.”
Well, whilst depression has been over-simplified over the years by cultural memes such as “it’s genetic” and “it’s caused by low serotonin”, today we know that is not exactly true.
75% of people come out of depression within 6 months with no treatment, 25% get stuck there, and those that get “stuck” there tend to have a depressive thinking style that they learned. That same thinking style can be challenged and unlearned through cognitive therapies such as CBT and Solution Focused Hypnotherapy.
As for low serotonin, it turns out that’s at least only half true after all. Some people can have high serotonin and still be depressed, and only 1/3 of depressives respond to anti-depressants (normally those that over-sleep). What’s more, there was never a scientific consensus that depressed people have “low serotonin” despite the fact many doctors still spread that meme today.
Does it have a genetic component? Yes, most disorders do, but when it comes to “nature versus nurture” it’s more a case of nature plus nurture – they both impact you – but in the case of depression nurture is a bigger factor.
I sometimes wonder if many of the “common wisdom” today within the world of ADHD, will one day turn out to be shown false or not so true in the future. For example, the idea that ADHD is “low dopamine” which is a chemical brain difference may turn out to be not so true after all, just like depression’s serotonin theory (although I do tend to use that idea, myself)
As for ADHD, only certain people develop it because certain people are prone to it. Why? Well it is one of the most heritable conditions (70%) and has a strong genetic component: a certain personality-biological “type” is prone to the disorder. It’s not like one year I have ADHD, then the next it gets replaced by OCD. When under stress, that certain “type” exhibits the symptoms of ADHD as their own, unique way of dealing with unresolved stress.
Early Detection & Intervention Key To Changing the ADHD brain
But let’s not confuse, as I said, real with genetic and genetic for “unchangeable.”
ADHD is no more fixed or “unchangeable” than depression. According to many top ADHD experts like Russel Berkley, “ADHD is the most responsive disorder to treatment that we know of.”
This is good news. ADHD is developmental, that’s why some but not all appear to “grow out of it.” But, and it’s a big but, if caught early enough and given the right treatment, the outcomes are good.
Even when this disorder is diagnosed later in life, with the right treatment outcomes can be positive too.
Never, ever, consign yourself to the belief that our brain differences mean that we are doomed. It is not so. If we look at the research on neuroplasticity, we have seen over and over how the brain can change surprisingly rapidly. For example, in studies on meditation and mindfulness we have seen physical changes within the brain within as little as 8-12 weeks.
So, this latest research shows us that certain areas of our brain are “behind”, but this is not fixed. With proper treatments (including a holistic mix of medication, exercise, nutrition, and therapy) giving proper “exercise” of these brain regions, improvements are indeed possible.
“Stop judging how far people have to go. Start celebrating how far they’ve come.” ~Anon