March 24, 2021

ADHD and Emotional Dysregulation

One of the many great contributions of Dr. Russell Barkley was his conceptualization of ADHD as a disorder of self-regulation. ADHD people have difficulties regulating their behavior, which lead to the classic diagnostic criteria of hyperactivity and impulsivity, and they have problem regulating cognitive processes which leads to the well-known inattentive diagnostic criteria for the disorder.    

In a 2010 paper, Dr. Barkley argued persuasively that deficient emotional self-regulation should also be considered a core component of ADHD alongside deficient behavioral and cognitive self-regulation.  Although the DSM 5 did not add any emotional symptoms to the revised criteria for ADHD a new paper by Graziano and Garcia supports Dr. Barkley's position.  

They conducted a meta-analysis of 77 studies of emotional dysregulation that comprised a total of 32,044 participants. They defined emotional dysregulation as the failure to modify emotional states in a manner that promotes adaptive behavior and leads to the success of goal-directed activities. They identified three types of emotional dysregulation: emotion recognition and understanding (ERU), emotional reactivity/negativity/lability (ERNL), and empathy/callous-unemotional traits (ECUT).  

ERU refers to the ability to perceive, process, and infer one's own emotions and the emotions of others.  ERNL refers to the intensity and valence of the emotional response.  Reactivity refers to the rapidity of the emotional response (e.g., is a person quick-tempered rather than reflective); negativity refers to the valence of the emotion.  

Is it extreme or appropriate to the situation; lability refers to how quickly emotional states shift or cycle over time. The ECUT dimension has two poles.  At one extreme is the empathic person, whose reactions are guided by a clear understanding of the emotional states of others.  At the other pole is the psychopath who shows little or no emotion to stimuli that evoke strong emotional reactions in the average person.    

When the data from the 77 studies were sorted into these three categories, the authors found that ADHD people had impairments in all three domains. The magnitude of impairment was a bit greater for ERNL than it was for ECUT and ERU, but not dramatically so.  The association between ADHD and these domains of emotional dysregulation increased with increasing age. It is for this reason that some ADHD experts think that emotional dysregulation should be included in the diagnostic criteria for adult ADHD. Because behavioral hyperactivity diminishes with age, these criteria are less sensitive for adult ADHD than they are for child ADHD. Substituting emotional dysregulation items for hyperactivity items could, potentially, improve diagnoses of adult ADHD.  Future work will address this issue.  In the meanwhile, those who screen and diagnose adult ADHD should be aware that symptoms of emotional dysregulation might be the most prominent for some adults with the disorder.

Barkley, R. A. (2010). DeficientEmotional Self-Regulation: A Core Component of Attention-Deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Journal of ADHD and Related Disorders1, 5-37.
hyperactivity disorderGraziano, P. A. & Garcia, A.
(2016). Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and children's emotion dysregulation: A meta-analysis. Clin Psychol Rev46, 106-23.

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News Tuesday: Fidgeting and ADHD

A recent study delved into the connection between fidgeting and cognitive performance in adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Recognizing that hyperactivity often manifests as fidgeting, the researchers sought to understand its role in attention and performance during cognitively demanding tasks. They designed a framework to quantify meaningful fidgeting variables using actigraphy devices.

(Note: Actigraphy is a non-invasive method of monitoring human rest/activity cycles. It involves the use of a small, wearable device called an actigraph or actimetry sensor, typically worn on the wrist, similar to a watch. The actigraph records movement data over extended periods, often days to weeks, to track sleep patterns, activity levels, and circadian rhythms. In this study, actigraphy devices were used to measure fidgeting by recording the participants' movements continuously during the cognitive task. This data provided objective, quantitative measures of fidgeting, allowing the researchers to analyze its relationship with attention and task performance.)

The study involved 70 adult participants aged 18-50, all diagnosed with ADHD. Participants underwent a thorough screening process, including clinical interviews and ADHD symptom ratings. The analysis revealed that fidgeting increased during correct trials, particularly in participants with consistent reaction times, suggesting that fidgeting helps sustain attention. Interestingly, fidgeting patterns varied between early and later trials, further highlighting its role in maintaining focus over time.

Additionally, a correlation analysis validated the relevance of the newly defined fidget variables with ADHD symptom severity. This finding suggests that fidgeting may act as a compensatory mechanism for individuals with ADHD, aiding in their ability to maintain attention during tasks requiring cognitive control.

This study provides valuable insights into the role of fidgeting in adults with ADHD, suggesting that it may help sustain attention during challenging cognitive tasks. By introducing and validating new fidget variables, the researchers hope to standardize future quantitative research in this area. Understanding the compensatory role of fidgeting can lead to better management strategies for ADHD, emphasizing the potential benefits of movement for maintaining focus.

July 16, 2024

Identifying Autistic-Like Symptoms in Children with ADHD

NEWS TUESDAY: Identifying Autistic-Like Symptoms in Children with ADHD

A recent study investigated the presence of autistic-like symptoms in children diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Given the overlapping social difficulties in both ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), distinguishing between the two disorders can be challenging. This study aims to pinpoint specific patterns of autistic symptoms in children with ADHD, comparing them to those with ASD using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, 2nd edition (ADOS-2).

The research involved 43 school-age children divided into two groups:

  • ADHD Group (25 children): Initially referred for ASD symptoms but later diagnosed with ADHD.
  • ASD Group (18 children): Children diagnosed with ASD.

Researchers used ADOS-2 to evaluate differences in communication deficits, social interaction challenges, and repetitive behaviors between the two groups. The study also compared IQ, age, ADOS-2 domain scores, and externalizing/internalizing problems.

Key Findings:

  • Significant differences were found between the ADHD and ASD groups in ADOS-2 domain scores, including Social Affect, Restricted and Repetitive Behavior, and Total Score.
  • On an individual item level, children with ADHD displayed similar atypical behaviors as those with ASD in social-communication areas such as "Pointing" and "Gestures".
  • Both groups showed comparable frequencies in behaviors like "Stereotyped/idiosyncratic words or phrases", "Mannerisms", and "Repetitive interests and behaviors".

The study highlights the importance of identifying transdiagnostic domains that overlap between ADHD and ASD. The transdiagnostic domain refers to a set of symptoms or behaviors that are common across multiple diagnostic categories rather than being specific to just one. Identifying these domains in mental health practice and in psychological research is crucial to understanding, properly diagnosing, and treating conditions with overlapping features. This understanding could pave the way for tailored treatments addressing the specific needs of children with ADHD, particularly those exhibiting autistic-like symptoms.

July 9, 2024

Non-stimulant Medications for Adults with ADHD: An Overview

NEW STUDY: Non-stimulant Medications for Adults with ADHD: An Overview

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in adults is commonly treated with stimulant medications such as methylphenidate and amphetamines. However, not all patients respond well to these stimulants or tolerate them effectively. For such cases, non-stimulant medications provide an alternative treatment approach.

Recent research by Brancati et al. reviews the efficacy and safety of non-stimulant medications for adult ADHD. Atomoxetine, a well-studied non-stimulant, has shown significant effectiveness in treating ADHD symptoms in adults. The review highlights the importance of considering dosage, treatment duration, safety, and the presence of psychiatric comorbidities when prescribing atomoxetine.

Additionally, certain antidepressants, including tricyclic compounds, bupropion, and viloxazine, which possess noradrenergic or dopaminergic properties, have demonstrated efficacy in managing adult ADHD. Antihypertensive medications, especially guanfacine, have also been found effective. Other medications like memantine, metadoxine, and mood stabilizers show promise, whereas treatments like galantamine, antipsychotics, and cannabinoids have not yielded positive results.

The expert opinion section of the review emphasizes that while clinical guidelines primarily recommend atomoxetine as a second-line treatment, several other non-stimulant options can be utilized to tailor treatments based on individual patient needs and comorbid conditions. Despite these advancements, the authors call for further research to develop and refine more personalized treatment strategies for adults with ADHD.

This review underscores the growing landscape of non-stimulant treatment options, offering hope for more personalized and effective management of ADHD in adults.

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