Understanding ADHD

ADHD is one of the most common childhood disorders, with symptoms that include difficulties with attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. MSFHR 2009 Trainee Carmen Lukie wants to develop a better understanding of brain functions related to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and is conducting research into specific brain activities associated with the disorder.

Affecting three to seven percent of Canadian school aged children, ADHD impacts not only children with the disorder, but also families, schools, and the healthcare system.

“ADHD is a growing concern for educators and families – there is a lot of misunderstanding and families often have a lot of questions around why ADHD occurs and how to manage it,” says Ms. Lukie, who received a Junior Graduate Studentship Trainee award.

Numerous theories of ADHD have focused on deficits in “executive functions”. Executive functions include the ability to initiate and stop actions, to monitor and change behavior as needed, and to plan future behavior when faced with novel tasks and situations.

Ms. Lukie’s project is taking these existing theories further by looking at the brain functions that govern reinforcement learning, which happens when the brain processes reward information.

“Reward signals project to areas of the brain responsible for guiding and modifying behaviour,” says Ms. Lukie, who is enrolled in the clinical neuropsychology Master’s program at the University of Victoria. “Impairments in the brain system that project and receive reward signals may underlie many of the behaviours observed in children with ADHD.”

Twenty children aged 8 to 13 years with ADHD and twenty typically developing children of the same age will be recruited to participate in Ms. Lukie’s project, allowing for investigation of differences between groups.

“This research will help put together a comprehensive picture of what causes children with ADHD to have difficulties with attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity,” says Ms. Lukie.

“Kids with ADHD don’t understand why they can’t focus and they often experience problems in social circles because their peers don’t understand either; it’s a very stressful situation.” she says.