“Confirmation of neurobiological origin or attention deficit disorder.” [i] That is the title of the article I read in Science Daily which is a summary of research published in Brain Structure and Function in February.[ii] The research is interesting in that it examines the behavior in mice that have been genetically altered who have a difference in the superior colliculus portion of their midbrain. An analysis of the superficial layers of this region demonstrated an imbalance in the noradrenaline concentrations in this area. Since the mice seemed to demonstrate defective response inhibition, the study appeared to show that these mice had an attention deficit issue. In the words of the researchers, “Our results suggest (my emphasis) that structural abnormalities in the superior colliculus can cause defective response inhibition, a key feature of attention-deficit disorders.”
Where do I start with this? First, the researchers do not claim in their publication to have proven that their research confirms the “neurobiological origin of ADD.” The editor at Science Daily said that. I am glad that this kind of research is being done for lots of reasons. If we do find a cause for ADD & ADHD and if we understand the pathology that causes it, we may be able to design testing that will allow us to reduce the number of children who are incorrectly diagnosed and treated in the United States every year. Science Daily says that 4 to 8% of children in the U.S. have ADD/ADHD. But, somehow that translates out to 15 to 20% of childhood populations being treated with medication in some parts of the country today. An understanding of the pathology and an accurate test would reduce both numbers dramatically.
Next, ADHD/ADD is not a disease. It is a difference in human ability to pay attention and tolerate boring environments like school when compared to interesting environments like computer games and television. Most children today are not being taught by anyone to sit up and respectfully listen to adults who are not interesting. With all due respect and apologies to all the good men who have been my Pastors, I learned it in church under the steady gaze of my parents. There were penalties associated with not at least looking like you were paying attention even if you mind was miles away. It was an amazing gift my parents gave me. I can listen to hour-long lectures and take notes now and even enjoy them. I was not born with that ability anymore than any child is today.
Attention is far more likely to be a spectrum across which some children can focus like lasers while other children are attracted to everything. The truth is that both ends of the spectrum of attention and all the spots in between have a value in different situations. This only becomes a problem when we take children whose attention abilities are not focused and force them to sit in classrooms for long periods of time and listen to people who cannot compete with television or computer games for entertainment value.
This spring Dr Richard Saul, a neurologist, published a book titled “ADHD Does Not Exist.” Dr Saul maintains that what does exist are twenty different medical problems that have the similar symptoms to ADHD. He states that he spends most of his time figuring out which one the individual has instead of lumping them all in to the waste basket diagnosis.
I agree with Dr. Saul. My observation has been that children who struggle to pay attention in school will have some kind of problem that is causing it. It may be one of many different kinds of problems. It is my job to help the family figure out how to help their child without exposing that child to the side effect risks of the medicine currently used in treating ADHD/ADD.
My last observation about the research should be obvious. The research was done on mice who were genetically altered and who demonstrated impulsive behavior living in strange experimental circumstances.
Children aren’t mice. J
[i] CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange). "Confirmation of neurobiological origin of attention-deficit disorder." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 April 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140411091727.htm>.
[ii] Chantal Mathis, Elise Savier, Jean-Bastien Bott, Daniel Clesse, Nicholas Bevins, Dominique Sage-Ciocca, Karin Geiger, Anaïs Gillet, Alexis Laux-Biehlmann, Yannick Goumon, Adrien Lacaud, Vincent Lelièvre, Christian Kelche, Jean-Christophe Cassel, Frank W. Pfrieger, Michael Reber. Defective response inhibition and collicular noradrenaline enrichment in mice with duplicated retinotopic map in the superior colliculus. Brain Structure and Function, 2014; DOI: 10.1007/s00429-014-0745