National Birth Cohort Finds Young Adults with ADHD Over-represented in Criminal Justice System

Using Statistics New Zealand’s Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI), a large database of linked de-identified administrative and survey data about people and households, a local study team examined a three-year birth cohort (mid-1992 through mid-1995) totaling 149,076 persons.

The team assessed the presence of ADHD within this cohort through diagnosis codes and inference from medication dispensing, where there was at least one code relating to an ADHD diagnosis in the medication datasets. This subgroup consisted of 3,975 persons.

Next, they related this information to criminal justice system interactions of increasing severity, starting with police proceedings, and continuing with court charges, court convictions, and incarcerations. These interactions were tracked during an eight-year period from participants’ 17th birthday through their 25th birthday.

In this same period the team also tracked types of offenses: against people; against property; against organizations, government, and community; and violent offenses.

In all cases, the study team adjusted for gender, ethnicity, deprivation, and area of residence as potential confounders. 

With these adjustments, young adults with ADHD were over twice as likely as their typically developing peers to be proceeded against by police, to be charged with an offense, and to be convicted. They were almost five times as likely to be incarcerated. 

With the same adjustments, young adults with ADHD were over twice as likely as their typically developing peers to be convicted of offenses against organizations, government, and community. They were almost three times as likely to be convicted of crimes against persons, and over three and a half times more likely to be convicted of either violent offenses or offenses against property.

The authors noted, “The greater effect size for incarceration observed in our study may be due to the lack of control for comorbid conditions such as CD [conduct disorder], which are known criminogenic risk factors.” 

They also noted, “The sharp increase in the risk of incarceration observed may also signal differences in the NZ justice system’s approach to ADHD, which may be less responsive to the condition than other nations, particularly the steps in the justice system between conviction and sentence. This would suggest that the UNCRPD [United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities] obligations of equal recognition before the law and the elimination of discrimination on the basis of disability are not being met for individuals with ADHD in NZ.”

They concluded, “Our findings revealed that not only were individuals with ADHD overrepresented at all stages of the CJS [criminal justice system] and offense types examined, there was also a pattern of increasing risk for CJS interactions as these individuals moved through the system. These results highlight the importance of early identification and responsivity to ADHD within the CJS and suggest that the NZ justice system may require changes to both of these areas to ensure that young individuals with ADHD receive equitable access to, and treatment within, the CJS.”

Francesca Anns, Stephanie D’Souza, Conrad MacCormick, Brigit Mirfin-Veitch, Betony Clasby, Nathan Hughes, Warren Forster, Eden Tuisaula, and Nicholas Bowden, “Risk of Criminal Justice System Interactions in Young Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Findings From a National Birth Cohort,” Journal of Attention Disorders (2023), 1-11,

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Nationwide population study in Denmark finds children and adolescents with ADHD more than twice as likely to suffer criminal violence

Denmark Population Study Finds Children and Adolescents with ADHD More than Likely to Suffer Criminal Violence

Children with disabilities are known to be at heightened risk of violence compared to their non-disabled peers. To what extent does this hold true for ADHD?

Denmark has a single-payer health insurance system through which health data about virtually the entire population can be cross-referenced with population, crime, welfare, and other registers through unique individual person numbers.

A Danish study team accessed national registers to examine the relationship between ADHD and criminal victimhood among nine yearly birth cohorts totaling more than 570,000 children and adolescents. 

Of these, 557,521, among them 12,040 with ADHD, were not reported as being exposed to violence, and 12,830, among which 1,179 with ADHD, were exposed to violence.

From the raw data, children and adolescents with ADHD were more than four times as likely to be exposed to violence than their typically developing peers.

The team then adjusted for other disabilities, family risk factors, gender, birth year, and ethnic background.

With these confounders out of the way, children and adolescents with ADHD remained more than twice as likely to be exposed to violence than their typically developing peers.

To place this outcome in further perspective:

  • Brain injuries increased the odds of being exposed to violence by over 75% relative to typically developing peers.
  • Physical and speech disabilities raised the odds by a bit over 35%.
  • Intellectual and sensory disabilities, dyslexia, and congenital malformations had no effect. 
  • Epilepsy reduced the odds of being exposed to violence by just under 20%, and autistic spectrum disorder by just over 25%.

Certain family risk factors further aggravated the odds:

  • Violence in the family by more than 2.5-fold.
  • Out-of-home care and breakup of parental relationship by more than 75%.

Perhaps surprisingly, substance abuse by family members had no effect whatsoever after adjusting for confounders.

January 24, 2024

Nationwide population study suggests ADHD medication may reduce child abuse

Nationwide Population Study Suggests ADHD Medication May Reduce Child Abuse

Child abuse includes any of the following inflicted on a minor under 18 years old: physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or neglect.

It is known to be associated with environmental factors such as poverty, parents or neighbors with a history of violence, and gender inequality.

Chronic mental disorders in minors are also associated with child abuse. To what extent, if any, might that be true of ADHD?

Taiwan has a single-payer national health insurance system that covers more than 99.6% of all residents, enabling nationwide population studies.

A local research team used data from almost two million Taiwanese in their country’s National Health Insurance Research Database (NHIRD) spanning 15 years (2000-2015) to carry out a matched-cohort study. 

All diagnoses of ADHD were made by board-certified specialists such as psychiatrists, pediatricians, neurologists, or physiatrists with a specialty in child and adolescent development.

3,540 children and adolescents between 6 and 18 years old with a diagnosis of ADHD were matched on a one-to-three basis with 10,620 peers from the NHIRD without an ADHD diagnosis.

The team adjusted for age, gender, location of residence (Northern, Central, Southern, and Eastern Taiwan), urbanization level of residence, level of hospitals as medical centers, and monthly insured premium. They further adjusted for comorbid conditions: intellectual disability, autistic disorder/pervasive developmental disorder, conduct disorder (CD)/oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), other developmental disorders, childhood emotional disorder, Tourette syndrome/tics disorders, and involuntary urination and defecation.

Overall, children and adolescents with an ADHD diagnosis were 1.8 times as likely to be abused as those without an ADHD diagnosis.

Unmedicated children and adolescents with an ADHD diagnosis were three times more likely to be abused. ADHD medication cut that risk in half.

That held true whether the medication used was methylphenidate or atomoxetine. Methylphenidate appeared to be slightly more effective than atomoxetine, and the combination of methylphenidate and atomoxetine slightly more effective yet, but these differences were not statistically significant.

The team concluded, “The results support that pharmacotherapy may attenuate the risk of child abuse in ADHD patients.”

March 5, 2024

Assessing Co-occuring Disorders in Relatives of Those With ADHD

Taiwan Population Study Assesses Comorbidity of Psychiatric Disorders among First-degree Relatives of Those with ADHD

Taiwan's National Health Insurance program is a single-payer system that covers 99.6% of the island's 23 million residents. It includes family relationships.

This enabled a Taiwanese study team to examine the comorbidity of psychiatric disorders among close relatives in the entire population over eleven years, beginning at the start of 2001 and concluding at the end of2011.

For greater certainty of diagnosis, only persons twice diagnosed with the same psychiatric disorder were included as index individuals. There were 431,887 index patients, 152,443 of whom were ADHD index patients.

These index patients were then compared with all of their first-degree relatives (FDRs): parents, children, siblings, and twins. This produced 1,017,430 patient-FDR pairs, of which 401,301 were ADHD patient-FDR pairs.

Next, four controls were matched by age, gender, and type relative to each case, resulting in 4,069,720 control pairs.

After adjusting for age, gender, urbanization, and income level, ADHD patients were seven times more likely than controls to have first-degree relatives with ADHD. They were also seven times more likely to have FDRs with major depressive disorder, four times more likely to have FDRs with autism spectrum disorder, twice as likely to have FDRs with bipolar disorder, and 80%more likely to have FDRs with schizophrenia.

February 3, 2023

Using Video Analysis and Machine Learning in ADHD Diagnosis

NEWS TUESDAY: Machine Learning and The Possible Future of Diagnosing ADHD

Typically, clinicians rely on both subjective and objective observations, patient interviews and questionnaires, as well as reports from family and (in the case of children) parents and teachers, in order to diagnose ADHD. 

A group of researchers are aiming to find a diagnostic test that is purely objective and utilizes recent technological advancements. The method they developed involves analyzing videos of children in outpatient settings, focusing on their movements. The study included 96 children, half of whom had ADHD and half who did not.

How It Works

  1. Video Recording: Children were recorded during their outpatient visits.
  2. Skeleton Detection: Using a tool called OpenPose, the researchers detected and tracked the children's skeletons (essentially a map of their body's movements) in the videos.
  3. Movement Analysis: The researchers analyzed these movements, looking at 11 different movement features. They specifically focused on the angles of different body parts and how much they moved.
  4. Machine Learning: Six different machine learning models were used to see which movement features could best distinguish between children with ADHD and those without.

Key Findings

  • Movement Differences: Children with ADHD showed significantly more movement in all the features analyzed compared to children without ADHD.
  • Thigh Angle: The angle of the thigh was the most telling feature. On average, children with ADHD had a thigh angle of about 157.89 degrees, while those without ADHD had an angle of 15.37 degrees.
  • High Accuracy: Using thigh angle alone, the model could diagnose ADHD with 91.03% accuracy. It was very sensitive (90.25%) and specific (91.86%), meaning it correctly identified most children with ADHD and correctly recognized most children without it.

This new method could potentially provide a more objective way to diagnose ADHD, reducing the reliance on subjective observations and reports. It can help doctors make more accurate diagnoses, ensuring that those who need help get it and that those who don't aren't misdiagnosed.

May 28, 2024

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.

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