Differences in the ADHD Brain

wooden spoons

Parents of ADHD/ODD kids know the look I’m talking about.  It’s that look from strangers in public that says “You really need to make your kids mind!” We get that look a lot.  I also once had a “friend” on Facebook tell me I needed to use a thick belt with a large buckle on it, and that’d cure anything.

So I started doing some research to find out why spankings don’t cure ADHD/ODD and here’s what I found.  I’m going to simplify it so that if that Facebook friend of mine ever stumbles upon this, he can understand it.

  1. Researchers in Norway used computerized images like MRIs and PET scans to study thousands of brains of people with ADHD, and compare those to brain images of people without ADHD. Those researchers have found that the images of the ADHD brains have certain structures that are significantly smaller than normal.  Those specific structures happen to be responsible for controlling impulsivity and regulating emotions, two hallmark symptoms of ADHD.  You can read more about the study at com, but I’ll warn you, it’s a very technical article.
  2. Verywellmind explains that some types of computerized imaging can also show which parts of the brain are operating during certain functions. These images of ADHD brains show that there is less blood flowing to certain structures, in particular, to areas of the brain responsible for things like planning, organizing, paying attention, remembering, and emotional reactions.
  3. Our brains exchange messages our body parts all day long. All of your senses rely on this exchange of messages.  Is that tag on the back of your shirt bothering you?  If so, it’s because your neck is sending your brain a message.  Is that ice cube really cold?  Your fingers are telling your brain that it’s cold, and your brain is processing that information.  Those messages are sent along our nerves.  The nerves are much like the power lines we have outside our homes all across the nation.  If any of those power lines gets severed, the electricity stops flowing.  Those power lines have junctions that need to be interconnected.  If those junctions aren’t secure, the electricity stops forming.

In our nerves, those junctions are called “synapses”, and instead of using all kinds of mechanical connectors, our nerves use chemicals (called neurotransmitters) within those synapses to keep the messages flowing to and from the brain.  One of the key chemicals (neurotransmitters) is dopamine, and in the ADHD brain, the dopamine isn’t regulated correctly.  There are three reasons for this: either there isn’t enough dopamine there, or the other side of the synapse (junction) doesn’t have enough receptors to accept the dopamine, or the dopamine is there but isn’t used properly.  In any case, the brain doesn’t have enough dopamine to function normally.

And for those of you who aren’t convinced that a lack of dopamine can cause problems, let me refer you to the Parkinson’s Foundation website, regarding Parkinson’s disease.  This too is a disease in which the nerves can no longer produce enough dopamine, causing tremors, limb stiffness, balance problems, and even non-movement symptoms like depression, sleep disorders, loss of sense of smell, cognitive impairment, and eventually complete debilitation.  Michael J. Fox is but one well-known celebrity with Parkinson’s disease.  So you can see that dopamine plays an important role in one’s brain and cognitive functions.

If I use the same theory that the general public adheres to, it makes me wonder if Michael J. Fox has ever tried to cure his Parkinson’s disease by being spanked repeatedly.  You doubt it?  So do I.  So if I can’t cure Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s by repeatedly spanking him, why would spankings cure my children of their ADHD, when both are related to the same chemicals?

Then, if spanking my ADHD child won’t work, what possible strategies can I use to modify his behavior?  You can choose from a plethora of various strategies until you find one that will work for your family.  Or you can opt to use bits and pieces from several different strategies.  I can only tell you what my family has used in the past and how those plans worked (or didn’t, as the case may be) for us.  I’ll go into more detail in future posts, but we’ve always favored a token economy (think earning money for desired behaviors) and counting, even before we knew these programs were favored by many therapists for ADHD kids.

Our first experience with a token economy was using a “grab bag” full of cheap $1 toys for our oldest son, to potty train him. Every time he’d use the toilet instead of going in his diaper, he’d get to choose a toy from the bag.  He was a late two-year-old, or early three-year-old, and it worked in a weekend.

Our current token economy utilizes toy money (from a $1 store and an old Monopoly game).  We have two menus posted on our home bulletin board.  One has behaviors that earn the kiddos money, ($1 for holding hands in parking lots, $3 for loading the dishwasher), and the other has a menu of things the kids can use the money for ($1 for a small piece of candy, $15 for sprinkler time).  If the kids want something from the store, like a specific toy, our general rule is that they have to save up one and a half times (in fake dollars) the amount of the price of the toy in real dollars.  So if they want a $10 toy at Wal-Mart or Target, they have to save up $15 fake dollars for it.  And taking their money away for poor behavior is, thus far, a very effective way to prevent the unwanted fits and tantrums.  There are pros and cons to this so I plan to make this my next blog topic.  Stay tuned!

In the meantime, feel free to share, like, follow, or comment!  I have a feeling some folks will be very passionate, either for or against not spanking, and I can’t wait to see!

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