At least 58,000 children are placed in institutional settings in the United States each year, and these institutions frequently fail to meet their basic physical, psychological, and intellectual needs. According to a new study, children raised in institutional settings may experience changes in brain development that can lead to ADHD.
Can Institutional Living Increase the Likelihood of ADHD?
The study drew its data from the Bucharest Early Intervention Project (BEIP), which tracks children raised from infancy in Romanian institutions. Researchers gathered data from 58 child participants in the BEIP project, then compared those children to 22 children raised in family homes. Researchers administered a brain scan to each child, and assessed each child for symptoms of ADHD.
Children who grew up in institutions had a marked reduction in cortical thickness across several brain regions, including the parietal, temporal, and prefrontal cortices. Institutionalized children also had more symptoms of ADHD, suggesting that changes in cortical thickness could play a role in ADHD. Several previous studies have found this correlation as well.
The study’s authors argue that the deprived environment of an institutional setting may alter brain development, and they emphasize the importance of providing mental health support to children living in institutional settings.
Environment and ADHD
Carey Heller, PsyD, a GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert on inattention and hyperactivity, points out that the way a child is raised can affect both the child’s likelihood of developing ADHD and the way ADHD manifests. “It is important to keep in mind that the environment affects both biological components of brain development as well as learned behavioral expressions. Some individuals with ADHD are raised in settings where symptoms may not be as pronounced,” he says.
But not all cases of hyperactivity or inattention are due to ADHD. Heller cautions that some children may be misdiagnosed with ADHD when something else better explains their symptoms. “While individuals raised in institutions or other related settings tend to have higher rates of mental illness,” he says, “it is likely that issues with attachment, emotion regulation, and other items may be misdiagnosed in many cases as ADHD. Obviously there may well be many individuals in such settings who truly have ADHD, but misdiagnosis may help explain some of the increases in prevalence of ADHD in individuals raised in such settings.”
Institutional rearing may increase risk for attention-deficit disorder by altering cortical development. (2014, October 14). Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141014084938.htm
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