3 Ways That Your ADHD Brain Is Literally Different
ADHD Brain Wiring – If you have adult ADHD, you might well feel like you’re an alien visiting a foreign planet. Other people seem to have very different skills and priorities, not the least of which is a somewhat reliable brain. If it sometimes feels like your mind has a mind of its own, then you’re not alone. As it turns out, there actually are marked differences between the ADHD brain and the so-called neurotypical brain.
ADHD Brain Wiring – Your Brain Is Smaller
People with ADHD have brains that are about 3%, according to one study. It’s important to note that brain size does not correlate with intelligence, and in fact, several studies have confirmed that there is no correlation between intelligence and brain size.
However, that does not mean that brain size is irrelevant, especially since there are certain parts of the brain that are consistently smaller in people with ADHD: the amygdala, the hippocampus, and three areas of the striatum. The amygdala, an almond-shaped structure, is involved in processing emotions like fear and pleasure, and the hippocampus plays a role in learning, memory, and emotion. The three brain areas within the striatum, which are the caudate nucleus, the putamen and the nucleus accumbens, are involved in the brain’s reward system and in its processing of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control motivation and pleasure.
In short, when it comes to emotional recognition, memory, concentration, impulse control, and what Freud might call the “pleasure principle,” your brain is literally different. The landmark study that determined the above only looked at seven parts of the brain, of which five parts were affected. Other studies are likely to find further differences, especially since the different parts of the brain are so interconnected.
ADHD Brain Wiring – You Were a Late Bloomer, or at Least Your Brain Was
ADHD and Delayed Maturity – The same imaging study that confirmed the size differences in core parts of the brain between neurotypical brains and ADHD ones also showed that development in these areas was significantly behind, often by as much as three or four years. Many children’s brains catch up before adulthood, but only partially in about 66% of cases, which is why some people “grow out of it,” and others don’t.
ADHD Brain Wiring – Your Neural Pathways Are Also Different
A different set of studies found that the neural pathways in the gray and white matter in children with ADHD were different than in neurotypical individuals. The specific neural pathways that were affected communicated between the parts of the brain that are responsible for impulsive behavior, attention, inhibition, and motor activity.
Neural pathways are a series of nerve fibers that communicate information between different parts of the brain. Think of them like cellphone carriers: most people are operating on one carrier and those who have ADHD use a different network. Eventually, the call gets through regardless, but it may get there a different way, or there might be figurative dead spots in different areas.
Taken together, your brain is different in three very important ways: it develops at a different pace, major structures are sized differently, and messages between parts of the brain are communicated in different ways.
These findings have led researchers to believe that ADHD may be more of a neurological condition than a cognitive one, and more importantly, that the terms disorder or disability perhaps aren’t as applicable, since the nervous system of someone with ADHD is so different, and those differences often have a lot of benefits – people with ADHD are often good in a crisis, are creative, and have energy levels that others envy.
So, next time you feel like you’re an alien, know that you’re not as far as you think and that perhaps you can teach these earthlings something.
Learn about famous scientists with ADHD who used their ADHD to change the world.