Researchers may have found ADHD cause

September 8, 2009 6:53:26 PM PDT
Treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can be a life-long ordeal, but some researchers believe they may have unlocked a critical secret -- the central cause of ADHD.

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Blake Taylor has ADHD. As a child he found it hard to focus on anything which didn't motivate him.

"I was a Leggos kid, wasn't much into video games, but definitely remember wanting to play Leggos and also Connects, which is another similar sort of thing, and not wanting to do studies," says UC Berkeley student Blake Taylor.

Researchers like Dr. Nora Volkow, M.D., with the National Institute of Drug Abuse, believe they now know why. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that helps cells to communicate. Volkow studied the brains of adults with ADHD with those without. She found a lower concentration of dopamine markers in the brain of people with ADHD. Without enough dopamine, there is less motivation and people with ADHD often don't feel they will be rewarded.

"Dopamine is considered a neurotransmitter that is crucial for our ability to perceive rewards and to be motivated in our behavior," says Volkow.

Dr. Stephen Hinshaw, Ph.D., from UC Berkeley's psychology department, has done extensive research on ADHD.

"Doing long boring homework assignments, we all start to yawn a little bit and our eyes glaze over. We have to work to keep that motivation up, but what if you were born with a set of genes that doesn't quite get that oomph in the reward system? That's probably part of what ADHD is," says Hinshaw.

"The way I like to describe it, is it's sort of feels like you are watching a TV with the channel changing without your control, you can't get mentally involved in what you are doing," says Taylor.

Taylor takes medication for ADHD. Today he's a junior at Cal majoring in biology and French literature. Two years ago he wrote his memoirs about living with ADHD.

The report may have an impact on how ADHD is treated. According to the main researcher of that study, it's also a wake-up call for teachers. Now that we know motivation is a major factor here, teachers may be encouraged to find new ways to engage children with ADHD.

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