February 2, 2021

ADHD is underdiagnosed, to varying degrees, among adults of different ethnicities, ages, and education levels in the U.S.

A cohort study looked at over five million adults and over 850,000 children between the ages of five and eleven who received care at Kaiser Permanente Northern California during the ten-year period from the beginning of 2007 through the end of 2016. At any given time, KPNC serves roughly four million persons. It is representative of the population of the region, except for the highest and lowest income strata.

Among adults rates of ADHD diagnosis rose from 0.43% to 0.96%. Among children the diagnosis rates rose from 2.96% to 3.74%, ending up almost four times as high as for adults.

Non-Hispanic whites had the highest adult rates throughout, increasing from 0.67% in 2007 to 1.42% in 2016. American Indian or Alaska Native (AIAN) had the second highest rates, rising from 0.56% to 1.14%. Blacks and Hispanics had roughly comparable rates of diagnosis, the former rising from 0.22% to 0.69%, the latter from 0.25% to 0.65%. The lowest rates were among Asians (rising from 0.11% to 0.35%) and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders (increasing from 0.11% to 0.39%).

The odds of diagnosis dropped steeply with age among adults. Relative to 18-24-year-olds, 25-34-year-olds were 1/6th less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, 35-44-year-olds 1/3rd less likely, 45-54-year-olds less than half as likely, 55-64-year-olds less than a quarter as likely, and those over 65 about a twentieth as likely.  This is consistent with other studies reporting an age-dependent decline in the diagnosis.

Adults with the highest levels of education were twice as likely to be diagnosed as those with the lowest levels. But variations in median household income had almost no effect. Women were marginally less likely to be diagnosed than men.

ADHD is associated with some other psychiatric disorders. Compared with normally developing adults, and adjusted for confounders, those with ADHD were five times as likely to have an eating disorder, over four times as likely to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder or depression, more than twice as likely to suffer from anxiety, but only slightly more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol.

The authors speculate that rising rates of diagnosis “could reflect increasing recognition of ADHD in adults by physicians and other clinicians as well as growing public awareness of ADHD during the decade under study.” Turning to the strong differences among ethnicities, they note, “Racial/ethnic differences could also reflect differential rates of treatment-seeking or access to care. … Racial/ethnic background is known to play an important role in opinions on mental health services, health care utilization, and physician preferences. In addition, rates of diagnosis- seeking to obtain stimulant medication for nonmedical use may be more common among white vs nonwhite patients.” They conclude, “greater consideration must be placed on cultural influences on health care seeking and delivery, along with an increased understanding of the various social, psychological, and biological differences among races/ethnicities as well as culturally sensitive approaches to identify and treat ADHD in the total population.”

But the main take-home message of this work is that most cases of ADHD in adults are not being diagnosed by clinicians.  We know from population studies, worldwide, that about three percent of adults suffer from the disorder.  This study found that less than 1 percent are diagnosed by their doctors.  Clearly, more education is needed to teach clinicians how to identify, diagnose and treat ADHD in adults.

Winston Chung, MD, MS; Sheng-Fang Jiang, MS; Diana Paksarian, MPH, PhD; Aki Nikolaidis, PhD; F. Xavier Castellanos, MD; Kathleen R. Merikangas, PhD; Michael P. Milham, MD, PhD, “Trends in the Prevalence and Incidence of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Among Adults and Children of Different Racial and Ethnic Groups,” JAMA Network Open (2019) 2(11): e1914344. DOI:10.1521/adhd.2019.27.4.8.

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Understanding Attention to Social Images in Children with ADHD and Autism

NEWS TUESDAY: Understanding Attention to Social Images in Children with ADHD and Autism

In the field of mental health, professionals often use a variety of tools to diagnose and understand neurodevelopmental disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). One such tool is the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), which is specifically designed to help diagnose autism. However, the ADOS wasn't originally intended for children who have both autism and ADHD, though this comorbidity is not uncommon.

A recent study aimed to explore how children with ADHD, autism, or both, pay attention to social images, such as faces. The study focused on using eye-tracking technology to measure where children direct their gaze when viewing pictures, and how long they look at certain parts of the image. This is important because differences in visual attention can provide insights into the nature of these disorders.

The researchers included 84 children in their study, categorized into four groups: those with ASD, those with ADHD, those with both ASD and ADHD, and neurotypical (NT) children without these conditions. During the study, children were shown social scenes from the ADOS, and their eye movements were recorded. The ADOS assessment was administered afterward. To ensure that the results were not influenced by medications, children who were on stimulant medications for ADHD were asked to pause their medication temporarily.

The results of the study showed that children with ASD, whether they also had ADHD or not, tended to spend less time looking at faces compared to children with just ADHD or NT children. The severity of autism symptoms, measured by the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ), was associated with reduced attention to faces. Interestingly, ADHD symptom severity, measured by Conners' Rating Scales (CRS-3), did not correlate with how children looked at faces.

These findings suggest that measuring visual attention might be a valuable addition to the assessment process for ASD, especially in cases where ADHD is also present. The study indicates that if a child with ADHD shows reduced attention to faces, it might point to additional challenges related to autism. The researchers noted that more studies with larger groups of children are needed to confirm these findings, but the results are promising. They hope that such measures could eventually enhance diagnostic processes and help in managing the complexities of cases involving comorbidity of ADHD and ASD.

This research opens up the possibility of using eye-tracking as a supplementary diagnostic tool in the assessment of autism, providing a more nuanced understanding of how attentional differences in social settings are linked to ASD and ADHD.

May 14, 2024

NEW STUDY: RASopathies Influences on Neuroanatomical Variation in Children

NEW STUDY: RASopathies Influences on Neuroanatomical Variation in Children

This study investigates how certain genetic disorders, called RASopathies, affect the structure of the brain in children. RASopathies are conditions caused by mutations in a specific signaling pathway in the body. Two common RASopathies are Noonan syndrome (NS) and neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), both of which are linked to a higher risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The researchers analyzed brain scans of children with RASopathies (91 participants) and compared them to typically developing children (74 participants). They focused on three aspects of brain structure: surface area (SA), cortical thickness (CT), and subcortical volumes.

The results showed that children with RASopathies had both similarities and differences in their brain structure compared to typically developing children. They had increased SA in certain areas of the brain, like the precentral gyrus, but decreased SA in other regions, such as the occipital regions. Additionally, they had thinner CT in the precentral gyrus. However, the effects on subcortical volumes varied between the two RASopathies: children with NS had decreased volumes in certain structures like the striatum and thalamus, while children with NF1 had increased volumes in areas like the hippocampus, amygdala, and thalamus.

Overall, this study highlights how RASopathies can impact the development of the brain in children. The shared effects on SA and CT suggest a common influence of RASopathies on brain development, which could be important for developing targeted treatments in the future.

In summary, understanding how these genetic disorders affect the brain's structure can help researchers and healthcare professionals develop better treatments for affected children.

April 30, 2024

News Tuesday: Integrating Cognition and Eye Movement

Integrating Cognitive Factors and Eye Movement Data in Reading Predictive Models for Children with Dyslexia and ADHD-I

In a recent study, researchers delved into the complex interplay of cognitive processes and eye movements in children with dyslexia and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Their findings shed light on predictive models for reading outcomes in these children compared to typical readers.

The study involved 59 children: 19 typical readers, 21 with ADHD, and 19 with developmental dyslexia (DD), all in the 4th grade and around 9 years old on average. Each group underwent thorough neuropsychological and linguistic assessments to understand their psycholinguistic profiles.

During the study, participants engaged in a silent reading task where the text underwent lexical manipulation. Researchers then analyzed eye movement data alongside cognitive factors like memory, attention, and visual processes.

Using multinomial logistic regression, the researchers evaluated predictive models based on three key measures: a linguistic model focusing on phonological awareness, rapid naming, and reading fluency; a cognitive neuropsychological model incorporating memory, attention, and visual processes; and an additive model combining lexical word properties with eye-tracking data, specifically examining word frequency and length effects.

By integrating eye movement data with cognitive factors, the researchers enhanced their ability to predict the development of dyslexia or ADHD, in comparison to typically developing readers. This approach significantly improved the accuracy of predicting reading outcomes in children with learning disabilities.

These findings have profound implications for understanding and addressing reading challenges in children. By considering both cognitive processes and eye movement patterns, educators and clinicians can develop more effective interventions tailored to the specific needs of children with dyslexia and ADHD.

April 30, 2024