April 23, 2021

What is Evidenced-Based Medicine?

With the growth of the Internet, we are flooded with information about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder from many sources, most of which aim to provide useful and compelling "facts" about the disorder.  But, for the cautious reader, separating fact from opinion can be difficult when writers have not spelled out how they have come to decide that the information they present is factual. 

My blog has several guidelines to reassure readers that the information they read about ADHD is up-to-date and dependable. They are as follows:

Nearly all the information presented is based on peer-reviewed publications in the scientific literature about ADHD. "Peer-reviewed" means that other scientists read the article and made suggestions for changes and approved that it was of sufficient quality for publication. I say "nearly all" because in some cases I've used books or other information published by colleagues who have a reputation for high-quality science.

When expressing certainty about putative facts, I am guided by the principles of evidence-based medicine, which recognizes that the degree to which we can be certain about the truth of scientific statements depends on several features of the scientific papers used to justify the statements, such as the number of studies available and the quality of the individual studies. For example, compare these two types of studies.  One study gives drug X to 10 ADHD patients and reported that 7 improved.  Another gave drug Y to 100 patients and a placebo to 100 other patients and used statistics to show that the rate of improvement was significantly greater in the drug-treated group. The second study is much better and much larger, so we should be more confident in its conclusions. The rules of evidence are fairly complex and can be viewed at the Oxford Center for Evidenced Based Medicine (OCEBM;http://www.cebm.net/).


The evidenced-based approach incorporates two types of information: a) the quality of the evidence and b) the magnitude of the treatment effect. The OCEBM levels of evidence quality are defined as follows (higher numbers are better:

  1. Mechanism-based reasoning.  For example, some data suggest that oxidative stress leads to ADHD, and we know that omega-3 fatty acids reduce oxidative stress. So there is a reasonable mechanism whereby omega-3 therapy might help ADHD people.
  2. Studies of one or a few people without a control group, or studies that compare treated patients to those that were not treated in the past.

Non-randomized, controlled studies.    In these studies, the treatment group is compared to a group that receives a placebo treatment, which is a fake treatment not expected to work.  

  1. Non-randomized means that the comparison might be confounded by having placed different types of patients in the treatment and control groups.
  2. A single randomized trial.  This type of study is not confounded.
  3. Systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. This means that many randomized trials have been completed and someone has combined them to reach a more accurate conclusion.

It is possible to have high-quality evidence proving that a treatment works but the treatment might not work very well. So it is important to consider the magnitude of the treatment effect, also called the "effect size" by statisticians. For ADHD, it is easiest to think about ranking treatments on a ten-point scale. The stimulant medications have a quality rating of 5 and also have the strongest magnitude of effect, about 9 or 10.Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation 'works' with a quality rating of 5, but the score for the magnitude of the effect is only 2, so it doesn't work very well. We have to take into account patient or parent preferences, comorbid conditions, prior response to treatment, and other issues when choosing a treatment for a specific patient, but we can only use an evidence-based approach when deciding which treatments are well-supported as helpful for a disorder.

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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