Your Brain in Love

It’s that time of year again; it doesn’t matter where you’re shopping, whether it be Walmart or your local arts and crafts store, everywhere you look there is some variation of red and pink hearts, boxes of chocolate, and giant stuffed animals that say “Be Mine.” For some people, Valentine’s Day is a highly anticipated date night, and for others it’s a dreaded day that they’d prefer to spend hiding under a rock. Whether your love life is going swimmingly or it’s completely in shambles, there’s probably a small part of you that wonders: what happens to your brain to make you fall in love?

Dawn Maslar M.S., author of the book Men Chase, Women Choose: The Neuroscience of Meeting, Dating, Losing Your Mind, and Finding True Love gave a TEDx presentation in Boca Raton, Florida. She explains the science of love and gives an inside look into what happens within the brain. The answer has to do with the alteration of brain chemicals. These brain chemicals, known as neurotransmitters, are what cause people to fall in love and — spoiler alert — the chemicals are different in men and women!

Initially, men and women begin the process of  falling in love in a very similar way. At the beginning stages of a relationship, when two people start to like each other, the neurotransmitter that plays the biggest role is dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter well known for its role in reward-motivated behavior. In the neuroscience world, dopamine has been strongly associated with addictive behavior. It has been studied in drug related research, as well as in research pertaining to gambling. As Maslar explains, the reason dopamine plays a role in addiction is because it is the neurotransmitter responsible for the feeling of wanting a reward. When we meet someone that we like, we begin to feel excited, and we begin to crave their attention. This wanting feeling is the dopamine flooding our brains and the reward we are craving is the attention from the other person.     

Once the initial liking phase is over and both parties are heading towards a deeper level of intimacy, the neurotransmitters responsible for the stage begins to differ between the sexes. The hormone that is responsible for this variation between men and women is testosterone. Testosterone is a hormone found in the bodies of both men and women; however, the levels of testosterone are much higher in men. Maslar explains that the high levels of testosterone in males prevent the neurotransmitter oxytocin from binding to receptors in the male brain. Oxytocin is known as the bonding and trust hormone. In women, this is the hormone that causes them to fall in love with their partner. However, because testosterone levels are so high in men, it blocks oxytocin’s ability to bind with the receptor. When a neurotransmitter cannot bind to a receptor it blocks the neurotransmitter’s ability to affect the brain. Therefore, testosterone is the reason men fall in love differently.

To get clarification on how men fall in love, Maslar turns to an animal study done on prairie voles. In the study, prairie voles were chosen to research love because they are monogamous creatures that breed with the same partner their entire lives. The researchers manipulated neurotransmitters within the brain of the voles and focused on a neurotransmitter chemically similar to oxytocin, called vasopressin. When researchers blocked vasopressin from binding to the receptor, they found that the male prairie vole lost interest in the female vole. This meant that blocking vasopressin made male voles fall out of love.

Although vasopressin could be the same neurotransmitter that causes male humans to fall in love, each animal is different and just because vasopressin causes voles to fall in love, it doesn’t mean it’s the case in humans. Maslar wrote to a head of research at Florida University who confirmed the vole study relates to the human brain, but she begins to wonder if there is more to the story when Tiffany Love from the University of Michigan, claims romantic love in voles in dissimilar to romantic love in humans. Maslar then turns to research conducted by Harvard University.

Harvard University collected testosterone levels in men that were single, in committed relationships and married. The researchers found that testosterone levels were significantly higher in men that were single than men who were in committed relationships and married. There was an obvious correlation between lower levels of testosterone when commitment to a relationship. It is also important to remember that high levels of testosterone was what was preventing the oxytocin to affect the the male brain. Maslar concludes that when men are in a committed relationship, testosterone levels fall enough to allows oxytocin to make men to fall in love. Falling in love due to oxytocin is more similar to the way a female falls in love. The major difference? Commitment.

What do you think? Does commitment play a role in falling in love? Do you think commitment can alter brain chemistry? Let us know in the comment section below!  

Legit ADHD Resources and How to Find Them

In a day and age focused on the idea of fake news, it is important to be able to differentiate between legitimate information and complete nonsense. Making the distinction might sound like a pretty straightforward concept but the stakes are high when it comes to information regarding your ADHD and other treatments. The Internet is filled with information, both true and false, and it’s important to know the do’s and don’ts when searching the web.

Where to Look
Johns Hopkins Medical Center has a few key tips for anyone trying to find reliable health related information online. The first pointer is to go to websites that are known to be credible. A good starting place for looking up reliable health related information about ADHD is Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library and MedlinePlus. These websites have been written and reviewed by medical personnel, and provide accurate, up-to-date information.

When venturing off of these trusted websites and trying to decide if information on a web page is credible, there are a few things to watch out for. First, make sure the information you are reading is current. Try to find the date when the information was posted. Medical information changes rapidly and something that was advised for patients with ADHD a few years ago could nowadays be recommended against. A good rule of thumb is that information posted more than three years ago is outdated.

Another important thing to note when looking on websites is the author and where the information is coming from. Information posted online can be written by anyone. Always check to make sure articles are written by a doctor, nurse, psychologist, or that the article is citing scientific studies conducted by researchers. Be skeptical of any information found online not written by a medical professional or information not backed by research.

Where Not to Look
A study published in the Journal of Medical Research  states that third-party analytics found Wikipedia to be the most viewed medical resource in the world. Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia containing information on a variety of topics including ADHD. Wikipedia has more than 155,555 medical related articles and this medical content was viewed more than 6.5 billion times in 2013. The catch is that the information found on Wikipedia can be edited by anyone with internet access.

A study published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association investigated how accurate the medical information was on Wikipedia. In the study, researchers investigated the accuracy of information on the 10 most costly medical conditions. Researchers compared the medical information found on Wikipedia to the information published in evidence-based, peer-reviewed sources. They found that for 9 of the 10 conditions there were significant differences between the two types of sources. Although some studies have found Wikipedia to be reliable, this study concluded that for medical information, –particularly information on the top 10 most costly medical conditions – is inaccurate and people using Wikipedia are being misinformed.  

Advice From an Expert
Adam Sage, PhD candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, conducted research about where parents are looking for information about their child’s ADHD. Sage appreciates that the Internet makes information available to more people, but also warns parents to be aware that there is false information out there.

Sage’s advice to parents searching the Internet for information is to be aware that each child with ADHD is unique. He says, “Any parent will tell you that no two children are the same, so the experience of another parent isn’t necessarily the same as the one you will have.”

Another concern is that we distrust medical professionals based on what we have read online. A major part of Sage’s study was figuring out what questions parents had, and whether or not they were actually asking them during doctor’s visits. He cautions parents not to assume they know information about ADHD because they found articles online. “Occasionally, people assume the information they found is correct and that affects the types of questions they do and don’t ask their physician. Not asking questions prevents the doctor’s ability to correct any misinformation and that’s not always the best way to go into a conversation with your doctor.” He advises parents to get information about their child’s ADHD and to confirm what they’ve found online with a physician or qualified health professional.

What do you think about how medical information is shared on the internet? Do you have any reliable websites you love to get information? Let us know in the comments!

Where to Turn for Answers After an ADHD Diagnosis

Anyone who has a kid or knows a kid can confirm that kids ask lots of question. They ask everything from why the grass is green to why the sky is blue. As a parent you probably find yourself dedicating a good portion of your day to answering questions. You probably also find yourself having lots of questions.

When a child gets diagnosed with ADHD it is natural for parents to have lots of questions. With the unknown, there is a lot of uncertainty about what’s normal. Have you wondered where you can turn to find answers? As our experience with technology has changed, so has our method for finding the answers to our most pressing questions. In the meantime, researchers from all around the world have been on the hunt to understand more about the questions guardians have and where they’re turning for more information about ADHD.

Parents in Other Countries

Researchers in Australia, Italy and Spain have all studied parents of children with ADHD.

In 2010 Australian researchers found that 86% of parents of children with ADHD were getting information from physicians. However, in recent years the Internet has become more accessible and included more content, which has changed the way people search for information.

More recently in 2013, Italian researchers expanded on the Australian study and investigated what kinds of parents were seeking health-related answers online. They found that the majority of parents that turned to Internet searches were moms who were unsatisfied with the information they had received from their child’s general practitioner.    

Meanwhile during the same year in Spain, researchers examined the quality of information available on ADHD websites. Their study focused on the 10 top ranked websites in Spain. Researchers found that the quality of information found on these websites was quite low. However, even with low quality information parents who viewed these sites were more knowledgeable about ADHD and more motivated to find treatment for their child.  

Parents in the United States
Adam Sage, PhD candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was fascinated with the research done overseas and was curious to see how these findings applied to American parents. At the beginning of this year he published a study in Clinical Pediatrics that investigated what kind of questions American parents are asking and where they are looking for answers.

What kinds of questions are parents asking?

Sage and his team found that the most common question that parents had about their child’s ADHD revolved around ADHD medication and the long-term effects of this medication. The top asked question was “What are the long-term effects of my child taking the ADHD medicine?” Other common questions that parents had included what could be done at home to help with ADHD and if the child would ever be able to stop taking the medication.

Where are parents looking for answers?

Sage and his research team found that 87% of parents searched the Internet for ADHD information and 81% of parents searched the Internet for information about ADHD medication.

The study investigated what were the top websites parents were using to get their information. They found that 74% of parents used WebMD to get more information about their child’s ADHD, while 20% of parents used Google and 14% of parents used Message boards.

More heads are better than one
All of these studies make it apparent that parents are turning to the internet to gather additional information about their child’s ADHD. Although the information that is being gathered by parents from WebMD, Google, and other websites can vary in its validity, the internet allows parents access to a wealth of information. The internet offers parents information about treatments and products that can help with a child’s diagnosis or tips for overcoming challenges and celebrating successes that make up daily living. With the speed of innovation happening for these families, it’s exciting that we live in an age where we can do our own research, answer some of our own questions, and then collaborate with specialists to find the best solution for our health-related questions.

What do you think?
Do you have a similar experience when faced with an ADHD diagnosis?  Did you look elsewhere for information about your child’s ADHD? Let us know in the comment section below!

Study by Duke Researcher Proves NeuroPlus Works for Students with ADHD

We’re thrilled to be announcing the results from a pilot study which showed that children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) demonstrated greater focus and decreased hyperactivity and impulsivity after training on the NeuroPlus video games system. The study, which also confirmed the product’s safety, was recently presented at the 6th World Congress on ADHD in Vancouver.

“Parents were asking how we could use our technology to help improve attention and self-control, so NeuroPlus was created with the primary focus to develop a solution that children are comfortable with: video games,” said our CEO Jake Stauch. “We’re excited to see these results, showing NeuroPlus could address the needs of parents hoping to reduce inattention and hyperactivity in their children while also giving anyone, regardless of age, a way to sharpen and improve their focus.”

The study, “Efficacy of a combined neurofeedback, biofeedback and go/no-go training intervention for ADHD: a randomized controlled trial,” was led by Dr. Sandeep Vaishnavi, a neuropsychiatrist at Duke University’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and director of the Neuropsychiatric Clinic at Carolina Partners in Mental Healthcare. Sixty participants aged 8 to 13 years old with ADHD were enrolled in the study, and subjects were randomly assigned to either 30 minutes of NeuroPlus training 3 times per week or a treatment-as-usual control group that continued their existing treatment regimen. The study lasted 10 weeks, and assessments administered before and after treatment showed improvements in the NeuroPlus group relative to the treatment-as-usual controls.

Statistically significant improvements were observed across multiple outcome measures, including the Conners Global Index (p = 0.010, Cohen’s d = 0.76), Conners Inattention subscale (p = 0.013, Cohen’s d = 0.73), Conners Hyperactivity/Impulsivity subscale (p = 0.040, Cohen’s d = 0.60), and the Quotient ADHD System Global Score (p = 0.005, Cohen’s d = 0.90). No adverse events were reported in the study.

“These results are very promising,” said Dr. Vaishnavi. “There is need to continue this course of study, but this type of training shows promising options for families looking for alternatives to support individuals with ADHD.”

Perquita Peña, a mother of twins with ADHD, has been a NeuroPlus user since January 2017. “I’m so impressed with the drastic changes that I’ve seen with my children’s grades since they started using NeuroPlus,” said Peña. “We don’t use medications because of the side effects, and we’re grateful to have something that really works and is fun for them.”

NeuroPlus was founded by Jake Stauch, who has more than 7 years experience in leading neuro-tech companies. He also previously worked as a researcher at the Duke Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. Stauch is passionate about using brain-training technologies to help people live their best lives with better focus and attention spans.

“Alongside a healthy lifestyle that includes proper sleep, diet, and exercise, we’re excited that NeuroPlus can make a difference for anyone looking to improve their focus and self-control,” said Stauch.

NeuroPlus is not meant to be a treatment for ADHD, nor is it marketed for those purposes.

NeuroPlus at TEDxCharleston

We’re happy to announce that our CEO Jake Stauch has been chosen as a TEDxCharleston speaker at the live event Wednesday, October 18, 2017 from 10:00am – 4:00pm at the Charleston Music Hall.

“I’m excited to share the capabilities of video games to improve attention,” said Stauch. “Some people question the impact of video games on our attention, but the research shows there could be surprising benefits.”

On stage, Jake will be looking into the future to the day when video games could be a solution for ADHD. By discussing research and breakthroughs, attendees will hear about how games can lead the way to improvements now.

Other speakers highlighted at the event can be found here, and if you’re local, you can access tickets online August 22. You can also follow along with the event by registering for the livestream. Hear something cool? Chat with NeuroPlus on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter or check out TEDxCharleston’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Flickr accounts.

In anticipation of the live event, we wanted to share three previous TED Talks that talk about how gaming is making a positive impact in individuals’ lives.

Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world [20:03]
McGonigal studied how games provide people with the experience of achieving an “epic win” and opportunities to stay motivated and overcome failure or frustration. She argues that virtual worlds provide us the platform to practice collaboration, creative problem solving, and social skills.

Daphne Bavelier: Your game on video games [17:57]
Bavelier, a researcher, talks through her research that indicate how video games could be helping practicing skills after playing including focus, multitasking, and vision. She makes the argument that by looking at video games as a tool that can improve our performance when done in moderation, we can see direct improvements over time.

Tom Chatfield: 7 ways games reward the brain [16:28]
It’s easy to be drawn into video games that feels far from the real world – crushing candy, catapulting animals, building cities, etc. The reward systems of these games captivate and motivate us, building upon human nature, to achieve more points and excel in these virtual worlds. Chatfield talks through the elements that make an interesting video game, and we argue that these elements that could very well be manipulated to encourage learning skills in any environment.

Photo courtesy of Edith Howle.

What Your Brain Looks Like on NeuroPlus Video Games

Families that train with and play NeuroPlus games have seen some amazing results. Whether you’re familiar with biofeedback and neurofeedback or they’re totally new concepts to you, we wanted to break down the scientific foundation of our games and how players and families can see improvements in focus, body control, and impulsivity by using the product. We’ll start by explaining how we measure focus by looking at the building blocks of your brain and the way scientists track if someone’s paying attention.

Neurons, the cells that help you think and feel, communicate by shooting electrical signals to each other in a big network throughout our bodies. When groups of neurons fire together, they leave traces that can be detected as brainwaves through an EEG (electroencephalogram) device. These brainwave signals can be separated into general clusters that doctors and researchers recognize. Right now, there’s not a scientific consensus about why or how these signals work this way. The different types of brainwaves are named after Greek letters, and the ones we use for NeuroPlus games are the beta and theta waves.

Scientists have identified a relationship between beta and theta brainwaves that indicate when someone is paying attention. Higher beta and lower theta is generally associated with more attention. There’s even an assessment called NEBA that doctors sometimes use when diagnosing someone with ADHD. Similar to that assessment, our system looks at a player’s beta and theta waves every 1 second or so, and determines the relationship between these two patterns. When the ratio is high (beta is high, theta is low), the player is rewarded, while a low ratio – indicating less focus – is punished. In the game that might translate to a player going faster when he’s paying attention or slower when he needs to focus more. When he first starts playing the game it might be hard to know exactly what it feels like to pay attention, but it’s something that comes with a little bit of practice.

Body control
It’s often hard to focus when you can’t sit still, and that’s why body control is the second pillar in the NeuroPlus system. The EEG headset that tracks brainwaves when you play NeuroPlus games also has an accelerometer that can tell if a player is moving around too much. When the game detects this kind of movement, the player is penalized in the game environment. They may, for example, lose control of their vehicle or lose points. This kind of feedback within the game leads to recognizable benefits in everyday life. With many people, constant movement and fidgeting are hard habits to break. Practicing with NeuroPlus helps individuals become more aware of their bodies and improves self-control.

Impulse control
The final pillar of our games is getting a player to react to the right stimuli on the screen and to ignore what’s not important through what we call go/no-go tasks. Researchers use this same type of technology in cognitive training therapy, challenging players to decide quickly when to react to something and when to ignore it. In NeuroPlus games, there is a lot happening by design. Go/no-go training is combined with the other pillars to make it more challenging and therefore more effective for the players. Stimuli appear rapidly on the screen and the player has to react as fast as possible, deciding whether to tap it or ignore it based on the game’s instructions. The player will not do well if they’re hyper focused on only one aspect of the game, or if they’re just passively paying attention. The player has to tap the stimulus correctly in order to earn points or avoid costly penalties.

Practice makes perfect
As with anything practice makes perfect. Since the foundation of NeuroPlus games are made from all three pillars—focus, body control, and impulse control—players see improvements not only within the game, but also in other aspects of their lives over time. We’ve seen these results within independent, blinded research and heard about them from individuals that can perform better in meetings or families that say a child is able to focus better on homework and get better grades.

If you’d like to try out NeuroPlus, you can sign up here, or schedule a time to talk to someone from our team about your questions.

To stay current on NeuroPlus news, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!

Photo courtesy of Jesse Orrico.

Fidget spinners: Helpful or harmful for focus?

Fidget spinners have taken hold recently with everyone from children to adults across the nation as the newest craze to help with focus. These mesmerizing spinning pieces roll around bearings, but can we say they’re helping?

Children love playing with them and some have said that it allows them to focus better. Teachers aren’t so convinced with their ability to help students stay on task, and many schools have started banning them. This hasn’t kept sellers from claiming that fidget spinners are everyday tools, especially for those with ADHD and attention issues. Although it seems little research has been done on the use of fidget devices, we wanted to take a dive to see if we could learn anything from what we do know about fidgeting and executive cognitive functioning.

Mark Rapport, a University of Central Florida clinical psychologist and ADHD researcher, told a Vox reporter he assumed, “[u]sing a spinner-like gadget is more likely to serve as a distraction than a benefit for individuals with ADHD,” as it takes away attention from tasks. His research, instead, shows that more full body movement—like cycling or running—engages the areas in the brain that aid focusing.

Meanwhile, Dr. Pilar Trelles, MD, a psychiatrist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, suggested to that “when someone is hypersensitive to the environment they might bite their nails, pull out their cuticles, or pinch their skin.” While these fidget spinners are a healthier alternative to expel energy, she notes that they are not a therapy and should not replace other recommendations.

Check out this family’s reaction to fidget spinners.

Especially when we consider the spectrum of differences experienced by people with ADHD, autism, and anxiety, we can assume that fidget spinners are likely to have different effects on different individuals. In fact, a pilot study with middle school students suggests that limited intervention of a stress ball might in fact help decrease distractions and increase grades during lessons for those with ADHD while not offering much help, and potentially increasing distractions, for typical students.

It appears that while these popular fidget spinners might be a solution for some people to explore, they might only be a fun (or distracting) toy for others. The best option may be to test out various accommodations and coping mechanism and see what works for your particular situation. Ultimately, if a solution shows promise in the areas we want to improve—such as focus, calmness, and impulse control—there’s no harm in trying it out.

What do you think about fidget spinners? Are they helpful or a nuisance? Let us know in the comments or reach out to us on Facebook or Twitter!

Visiting the World Congress on ADHD

Last week, the sixth meeting of the World Congress on ADHD descended on Vancouver, Canada. The World Congress on ADHD is a biannual conference that is sponsored by the World Federation of ADHD, attended by clinicians, scientists, and other healthcare professionals. Our CEO Jake Stauch traveled north to hear more about the latest in ADHD research and I asked him a few questions about his experience.

Why do you think it was important to be at the World Congress on ADHD for NeuroPlus?
Although NeuroPlus is not a treatment, a lot of our users struggle with ADHD. Much of our team has a background as researchers and we are passionate about science and evidence-based innovations. Assessing and addressing attention issues are a core part of our product. So when there’s a conference about the latest research in ADHD and attention issues, we want to be present both to talk about the research and be a part of the conversations on the best way to move forward.

So, when thinking about that, what is some interesting research you heard about?
New research is starting to shed light on the long term effects of medication. Recent studies suggest that stimulant medication alone is not the best intervention for ADHD and there’s some evidence showing that while being an effective short term treatment option, there are diminishing effects from medication after the first year with some growth suppression in the long term. The best effectiveness is observed when medication is coupled with counseling with a  doctor every four weeks to adjust dosage. These findings have come out of Multimodal Treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (MTA) Study, the largest study on medication used to treat ADHD that follows the efficacy of various ADHD interventions  over long time periods.

How about in the areas of other kinds of treatment?
Neurofeedback, one of the core components of NeuroPlus, is accumulating evidence supporting its efficacy in addressing attention issues.  On the other hand, what’s interesting is the conflicting evidence on simple cognitive training—these brain games that we’re used to seeing in the market. Some studies are showing how they have a positive influence, especially in skills closely related to playing the game, but others are showing that these results may not extend to real-world situations. Researchers are very interested in these alternative interventions and it will be interesting to keep a close watch on the research in this field.

Any other observations you noticed from the presentations and conversations at the conference?
As an industry, researchers, clinicians and professionals continue to pursue an understanding of the differences among those with ADHD. There seems to be a growing consensus that what we call ADHD may be heterogeneous in origin, meaning that two different individuals with ADHD may have different deficits with different underlying causes. Because of that, the ideal treatment may be highly specific for each individual. By focusing on the label of “ADHD,” are we missing an opportunity to instead address the cognitive and behavioral deficits shared by people with a range of attention disorders? In other words, if you struggle with attention, whether or not you have ADHD, maybe a future intervention will provide relief from your most pressing challenges. We’ll have to wait and see what the research says!

Thanks for the insight from your travels, Jake! What do you think about the way we talk about ADHD? Do you think there’s a different way of talking about treatment?

Let us know in the comments or reach out to us on Facebook or Twitter!

When it comes to ADHD, age is more than just a number

You could be increasing your child’s chances of receiving an ADHD diagnosis by pushing them ahead in school.

A recent report by NPR claims that the youngest children in the classroom are at a higher risk of acquiring an ADHD diagnosis. The article cites multiple studies  done abroad which indicate that children who are young for their grade in school are diagnosed with ADHD more often than their older peers. In sum, these studies highlight the importance of considering a child’s age within their grade when diagnosing a child with ADHD or prescribing them medication.

While age within a grade seems to be a predictor of diagnosis, it may not be a compelling predictor of disorder. One factor that complicates matters is that teacher-report serves as a focal diagnosis tool. Teachers, however, can be biased against the youngest kids in the classroom because they constantly compare them to older, more mature students. A study recently conducted in the U.S. indicates that where a child’s birthdate falls in relation to their school’s kindergarten cut-off date significantly influences their likelihood of diagnosis due to teacher-report, which could be misconstrued: “A child’s birth date relative to the eligibility cutoff also strongly influences teachers’ assessments of whether the child exhibits ADHD symptoms but is only weakly associated with similarly measured parental assessments, suggesting that many diagnoses may be driven by teachers’ perceptions of poor behavior among the youngest children in a classroom.” Comparison is intrinsic to a classroom setting, but may play to the detriment of those who are behind in their social development.

Not only does social maturation influence teachers’ perception and subsequent diagnosis rates of younger children, but also biological maturation. That is, a child’s maturity is connected to both their bodies and their minds. Evidence shows that children diagnosed with ADHD early in their school careers often show a significant symptom reduction as they age, indicating that misdiagnosis often occurs and is correlated with biological immaturity: “This study gives support to the theory that there is a group of children with ADHD-symptoms who have a biological maturational-lag who will show a decrease in their ADHD-symptoms as they show a maturation catch-up with increasing age.” In essence, children exhibiting immature behavior do not necessarily have ADHD, yet there is a strong bias towards diagnosing them.

While these misdiagnoses are understandable and probably somewhat inevitable, they could be dangerous. First and foremost, it may not be advisable to put a child on stimulants if they’re simply young for their class, for fear of purposeless side effects. Moreover, their symptoms may remedy themselves as the child matures. Secondary dangers include social effects. Children diagnosed without cause could experience a type of Golem Effect,  a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby a child transforms into the label they are diagnosed with… This phenomenon has parallels to Malcolm Gladwell’s “relative-age effect,  by which an initial advantage attributable to age gets turned into a more profound advantage over time.” Gladwell discusses this in the context of professional Canadian hockey players, who are far more likely to be born in January, February and March than in other months, due to the junior hockey league’s cut-off of January 1st. Because the oldest kids are more physically mature and seem better, they get extra attention, better coaching, and more practice, factors that compound over time and eventually lead them to become professionals. The same idea could hold true for ADHD diagnosis, but unfortunately, in the opposite direction. Children who are younger seem symptomatic and are labelled as such, limiting their ability in the eyes of teachers, who in turn put less effort into cultivating their abilities.

Gladwell proposes an interesting solution. He suggests that elementary and middle schools put students with January through April birthdays in one class, the May through August birthdays in another, and those with September through December in a third, in order “to level the playing field for those who—through no fault of their own—have been dealt a big disadvantage.” Promising as it sounds, we’re unlikely to see these kinds of systematic changes anytime soon.

More attainable for you, however, is the possibility of training attention skills to compensate for relative immaturity in the classroom. Products like NeuroPlus can help improve attention skills in children who are developmentally behind their peers. In this way, children can accelerate the maturation of their attention abilities in a safe and controlled environment, void of negative side-effects.

Regardless of the course you take, if you have a child who is young for their grade and struggling in school, know that attention takes practice and time.

Methylphenidate: Effective or Defective?

New research concerning the efficacy of methylphenidate, brand-name Ritalin, revealed disturbing results. Study authors, led by Ole Jakob Storebø, performed a meta-analysis of 185 randomized-controlled trials which included 12,245 participants to determine the effects of methylphenidate in children and adolescents with ADHD.

The main findings reveal that most of the scientific information doctors use to prescribe methylphenidate is very low-quality evidence. What does “low-quality evidence” mean? Essentially, the research reveals that measures such as teacher reported symptoms, general behavior, quality of life, serious and non-serious adverse events, are all at high risk for reporting bias, imprecision, indirectness, heterogeneity, and publication bias. Although methylphenidate may improve concentration, hyperactivity and impulsivity, it is unclear what the magnitude of these benefits are, especially in comparison to the side-effects like sleeping problems and decreased appetite. In sum, it is uncertain whether taking methylphenidate over a long period of time is effective in treating ADHD: “At the moment, the quality of the available evidence means that we cannot say for sure whether taking methylphenidate will improve the lives of children and adolescents with ADHD,” the authors conclude.

What does this mean for somebody with ADHD? If he or she is already on medthylphenidate without adverse effects, it is not advisable to stop use based on these results. Discontinuing treatment may have further adverse effects. You should consult your doctor if you have any questions about this new research.

What about doctors? The researchers urge clinicians to take extreme caution in prescribing methylphenidate, and consider the full scope of the situation before committing to its use.

What next? The authors encourage further research with depersonalized individual data and reliable reporting of all treatment outcomes. More research should also be conducted concerning non-pharmacological strategies for helping individuals living with ADHD.

It is likely that given these results, more analysis concerning the efficacy of ADHD-related drugs will occur. Keep on the look out for reports and new data. This is not the end of the story, more is to come!