March 17, 2022

Meta-analysis finds no significant effect of cognitive treatment on ADHD symptoms and executive functioning when randomized controlled trials are blinded

A Chinese study team performed a systematic search of peer-reviewed journal literature to identify randomized controlled trials (RCTs) examining the efficacy of cognitive training as a treatment for youths with ADHD.

Seventeen RCTs with a combined total of 1,075 participants met standards for inclusion in a series of meta-analyses. Seven RCTs used waitlist controls, seven used placebo training, two used treatment-as-usual, and one used active knowledge training. Participants were unmediated in four RCTs, with varying proportions of medicated participants in the remaining thirteen.

A meta-analysis of 15 RCTs, with a combined 789 participants, assessed changes in inattention symptoms following treatment, as rated by parents or clinicians. It found a small-to-medium effect size improvement in symptoms of inattention. There was no indication of publication bias, but between-study heterogeneity was very high.

But that gain vanished altogether when combining only the six RCTs that were blinded, meaning the symptom evaluators had no idea which participants had received cognitive treatment and which participants had not. There was zero difference between the treatment and control groups. Significantly, between-study heterogeneity also diminished markedly, becoming low to moderate.

A second meta-analysis, of 15 RCTs with a combined 723 participants, assessed changes in hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms following treatment, as rated by parents or clinicians. It found no significant difference between participants who received cognitive training and controls. There was no sign of publication bias, and between-study heterogeneity was moderate-to-high.

The three remaining meta-analyses looked for improvements in executive functions, using the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF).

A meta-analysis of 13 RCTs, with a combined 748 participants, found a small-to-medium effect size improvement in the global executive composite index of BRIEF, as evaluated by parents. There was no sign of publication bias, and between-study heterogeneity was moderate-to-high.

But that improvement again disappeared altogether when considering only the five RCTs that were blinded. Between-study heterogeneity also became insignificant.

A meta-analysis of 6 RCTs with 401 participants found no significant improvement in the behavioral regulation index of BRIEF. Heterogeneity was negligible.

Finally, a meta-analysis of 7 RCTs with 463 participants also found no significant improvement in the metacognition index of BRIEF. In this case, between-study heterogeneity was high.

While acknowledging that "when analyses were set in blinded measures, effect sizes were not statistically significant," the author nevertheless concluded, "In summary, multiple cognitive training alleviates the presentation of inattention and improves general executive function behaviors in children with ADHD." This suggests an underlying bias on the part of the study team in favor of treatment even when not supported by best (i.e., blinded) methodological practices.

Shuxian Chen, Jinglong Yu, QiangZhang, Jin Zhang, Ying Zhang, and Junhong Wang, "Which Factor Is More Relevant to the Effectiveness of the Cognitive Intervention? A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials of Cognitive Training on Symptoms and ExecutiveFunction Behaviors of Children With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder,". Frontiersin Psychology (2022)published online,

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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