While reading a 2007 press release from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), I became unusually hopeful for youths diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A study performed jointly by the NIMH and the National Institute of Health revealed the brains of youths with ADHD develop normally but at different rates. In the prefrontal cortex, development was delayed three years on average in youths diagnosed with ADHD. This region of the brain is associated with higher-order executive functions and is responsible for coordinating actions with thoughts according to a person’s goals and intentions.
But while development of the prefrontal cortex lags in youths with ADHD, the motor cortex, which controls voluntary body movement, matures faster. These combined changes correlate with behaviors seen with ADHD: fidgety, restless bodies that have difficulty inhibiting behavior and focusing attention. These behaviors impact their ability to do well in reward-based systems that require delaying gratification while working towards long-term goals (that is to say, school).