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The ADHD Brain

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder.  I wish more people understood this.  Simply put it is associated with how the brain develops through childhood.  Research has shown fundamental differences in the brains of people with and without ADHD.  The ADHD Brain is both physically and structurally different.  I was so interested in this that I wanted to know in what ways, and if you do too, please read on!

Brain Imaging

ADHD Brain

Brain imaging is the best way to ‘see’ the brain.  Today we can not only ‘see’ the brain but also watch it in action, incredible.

fMRI – Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging

PET – Positron emission tomography

These two types of brain scans are particularly useful and can measure brain structure and function.  However, they are not used to diagnose ADHD.  Whilst they are useful for research purposes, they are can only show brain patterns at that time.  They do not show how a brain would react in different situations.  Therefore, the best assessment for ADHD is still carried out during a detailed interview with a trained and qualified medical professional.

Brain Differences

Research has shown that a person with ADHD has a smaller brain volume in five parts of the brain.  Obviously, their brain size is also therefore smaller.  In fact, one study, over a 10-year period, found that children with ADHD had smaller brains by about 3%.  I would like to point out that brain size is not correlated to intelligence, I was just interested in this fact!  However, parts of the ADHD brain do mature at a slower rate, with some never fully reaching the maturity of a neurotypical brain. 

Another interesting fact is that the Amygdala and Hippocampus are smaller in ADHD brains.  These two areas are important for emotional processing and impulsivity.  This again is not saying that the ADHD brain is not intelligent, it’s saying, it takes longer, in most cases, to develop. However, this also does not mean that once these parts are developed that ADHD simply goes away.  ADHD is lifelong, the symptoms may gradually change but it does not disappear. 

The Lobes

The brain is divided into areas that are called lobes.  There are four lobes: Frontal, Parietal, Occipital and Temporal.  The Parietal lobe deals with processing information such as taste, smell, touch and movement; the Temporal lobe processes memories of touch, taste, sound, sight etc; the Occipital lobe is responsible for vision.

The ADHD brain has been shown to have decreased brain activity in the Frontal lobe.  This may be due to slower development of the brain as has been mentioned.  But, if we look at what the Frontal lobe is used for, the executive functioning, I am sure many of us will sigh and say ahhhh now I get it.

Frontal Lobe:

ADHD Brain in action
  • Motivation
  • Problem Solving
  • Judgement
  • Impulse Control
  • Social Behaviour
  • Planning
  • Decision-making
  • Attention
  • Memory
  • Ability to delay gratification.
  • Language
  • Time perception

You just need to take one look at this list to see that all these are daily problems for our children with ADHD.  When I read it, I was like, Motivation, tick; Problem Solving, tick; Judgement, double tick; Impulse control, double tick, and so on!  I mean if ADHD affects developmental delays in this area, then of course they are going to display the main signs and symptoms we see daily.  Now there’s more, keep reading!

Brain Chemistry

The brain is basically the communication centre of the body.  Messages are relayed via neurons (brain cells).  Do not worry I am not going to take you back to a dreaded biology class, just giving some basics so we can understand the differences in the ADHD brain!  The ‘gap’ between the neurons, the synapse, needs neurotransmitters to pass the messages across.  These are chemical.  These chemicals perform different tasks.  Bear with me here.  ADHD can impact how these chemicals (neurotransmitters) and neurons work: not enough neurotransmitter is emitted; receiving neuron may have trouble receiving the neurotransmitter; neurotransmitter is sucked back in before the connection is made.  Stick with me, it’s all going to make sense in a minute, I hope.


In the ADHD brain, the neurotransmitters Noradrenaline (the stress hormone) and Dopamine (the happy hormone, important for reward, motivation, and pleasure) are in low supply.  Low levels of these transmitters make it harder for the brain to focus.  Hence why ADHD brain can often be extremely unmotivated, particularly when doing a boring task.  When a distraction presents itself, people with ADHD find it almost impossible not to be side-tracked.  The ADHD brain was the first disorder found to be the result of a specific neurotransmitter.

When I read all these facts.  Actual black and white facts, I am not sure if it made me happy or angry!  I mean, this is evidence of real brain differences in children with ADHD that cannot be denied.  Yet are!  Scientific evidence, that anyone can read, in any scientific journal confirms ADHD is real.  There are tangible differences between a neurotypical brain and an ADHD brain.  So, why is it so hard for awareness to be raised and for people to believe that ADHD is real!  So frustrating!

Maybe if we were able to diagnose via a scientific method, more people would believe it was real?  As in, show them something physical then people would be more ready to accept? But we can’t.  To be quite honest, I’m getting past the point of caring about the ignorant’s who still spout the ‘ADHD wasn’t around in my day,’ it was, it’s just that it went undiagnosed and consequently many people suffered because they weren’t helped; or ‘it’s just bad parenting, they just need more discipline,’ yes of course because you would always fuel the fire with fire!  *eye roll.


ADHD is a complex neurological condition.  It is a product of functional and structural differences in the brain.  Treatment is therefore available both as medication and in the form of therapy.

Normally in Primary school-age children, much of the focus will be on the parents and education for them.  Teaching the parents strategies on how to deal with certain situations, how best to react to various confrontations etc.  Basically, educating the parents on ADHD and how best to help their child.  When the child is old enough, they can begin therapy.

CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is supposed to be an excellent help for children with ADHD.  It is based on Cognitive and Behavioural psychology.  The idea is to change a person’s way of thinking from negative to positive.  It has shown to be excellent at helping with emotional regulation, which is obviously something the ADHD brain needs help with.  I am currently looking into doing a course on this to see if I can understand it is processes better.  I will keep you posted!

The medication works on the premise of increasing the ADHD brain’s dopamine levels.  This works on the attention and focus part. They can either prevent the dopamine in the system from being removed too quickly or they stimulate the release of more dopamine.  Either way, it helps to enable a more balanced brain chemistry.  I always thought it weird that ADHD medication stimulated rather than pacified a child with ADHD.  It seemed like the total opposite of what they needed!  As I’ve always said, you wouldn’t expect a diabetic to deal with their life without insulin, why is there so much stigma when a person with ADHD requires medication.  It’s a chemical imbalance.  The choice is for the family.

There is so much more I could write, as usual!  I get carried away when I start reading about a topic.  However, I know that if you are a parent or carer with a child with ADHD your time is extremely precious and it’s better to have concise facts than a lot of waffle!  I hope this has been of interest.  As always I like to know as much as I can about ADHD so I can best help my children.  If you would like to join our parent support group on Facebook, please click HERE.  If you have any comments please do write, I love to hear from people about their experiences.  Please do subscribe to receive all the latest blog posts!

Above all, let me repeat, ADHD is real.  You are doing a great job.

Take care x

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Greg

    As well as my daughter, I too have ADHD. So, reading these blogs also help me to better understand my ADHD as well. And it has helped explain a ton of my past failures and difficulties, which in turn, will allow me to recognize it easier in my daughter and to be able to better help her with her success in life. I’m 44, and I still struggle and when I look at myself to my peers from H.S, I am way behind. It’s a shame I wasn’t able to find the help I needed then. But, it is what it is. (I have done the CBT therapy and it has totally helped in the emotion dept. )

    1. Victoria Page

      Thank you so much for sharing this. If you are on Facebook please do find adhd in children support group. We’d love to have you x

  2. Joh

    Thank you Victoria, this is fascinating and a great read to educate myself and that I will share with others. So much is misunderstood about ADHD and sadly some negative perceptions but hopefully things are starting to change. Your blogs are a great resource and comfort!

    1. Victoria Page

      Thank you so much, I really appreciate the feedback x

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