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Education Reporter

Brain Scans Show Kids Grow Out of ADHD
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A study published in November helps to explain why so many children grow out of ADHD symptoms given time. The study, which appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used medical imaging techniques to examine the brains of children with and without ADHD symptoms. Researchers did not find any permanent flaws or deficits in the brains of the ADHD children, but did discover that parts of the ADHD children's brains were developing more slowly than those of the other children.

A child's brain matures over time, with the cerebral cortex first growing thicker in early childhood and then thinning out. The thinning process, in which neurons are "pruned," begins at age 7-1/2 in children without ADHD symptoms, according to the study. Children with the symptoms begin the process about three years later, at age 10-1/2.

"The basic sequence of development in the brains of these kids with ADHD was intact, absolutely normal," the lead author of the study, Dr. Philip Shaw, told the New York Times (11-13-07). "I think this is pretty strong evidence we're talking about a delay, and not an abnormal brain."

Another study, published on the same day in Developmental Psychology, looked at children who behave disruptively in kindergarten. The researchers found that among over 16,000 children, kindergartners who sometimes acted defiant, rude or aggressive were able to read and do math as well as well-behaved children of the same abilities, by the time both groups reached 5th grade.

"I think these may become landmark findings," predicted Sharon Landesman Ramey, director of the Georgetown University Center on Health and Education. Ramey believes both studies may force us "to ask whether these acting-out kinds of problems are secondary to the inappropriate maturity expectations that some educators place on young children as soon as they enter classrooms."

The second study found that the best predictor of academic success in 5th grade was each kindergartner's score on a math test administered at age five or six. Assessments of reading and attention also predicted 5th-grade academic success, but not as strongly as math scores did.

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