Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is linked to delayed brain development

For the first time, scientists can point to substantial empirical evidence that people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder have brain structures that differ from those of people without ADHD. The common disorder, they conclude, should be considered a problem of delayed brain maturation and not, as it is often portrayed, a problem of motivation or parenting.

In conducting the largest brain imaging study of its kind, an international team of researchers found that ADHD involves decreased volume in key brain regions, in particular the amygdala, which is responsible for regulating the emotions. Although the study, published Wednesday in the Lancet Psychiatry, included children, adolescents and adults, the scientists said the greatest differences in brain volume appeared in the brains of children.

Of seven subcortical brain regions targeted in the study, five, including the amygdala, were found to be smaller in those with ADHD, compared with those in a control group. The other regions that showed reductions in volume were: the caudate nucleus (which has been linked to goal-directed action), the putamen (involved in learning and responding to stimuli), the nucleus accumbens (which processes rewards and motivation) and the hippocampus (where memories are formed).

The first author, geneticist Martine Hoogman of Radboud University in the Netherlands, said the amygdala “is a structure that is not so well known to be implicated in ADHD. … We do know from other functional studies of the amygdala that it is involved in emotion regulation and recognizing emotional stimuli. But it is also involved in the process of [inhibiting] a response. Both cognitive processes are characteristic of ADHD, so it does make sense to have found this structure to be implicated in ADHD.”

The research was conducted by an ADHD working group that is part of a worldwide consortium called ENIGMA (Enhancing Neuro Imaging Genetics through Meta Analysis). The group aims to bring together scientists in fields such as imaging, genomics, neurology and psychiatry to better understand brain structure and function. Its ADHD project was four times the size of the previously largest study and was conducted at 23 locations in nine countries by 80 researchers, primarily psychiatrists and neuroscientists.

A total of 3,242 people, ages 4 to 63, underwent MRI brain scans. Almost half of them had been diagnosed with ADHD. The other half were control subjects.

“The reliability of ADHD research has not been great, because of [small] sample sizes,” said Jonathan Posner, who did not take part in the study but who does pediatric brain imaging research at Columbia University Medical School. “So because this study was orders of magnitude higher in terms of participants, and because it involved sampling broadly and internationally, it gives us more confidence.”

By being able to point to measurable differences in the brains of those with ADHD, the ENGIMA scientists hope their study will also help the general public better understand the disorder.

“I think most scientists in the field already know that the brains of people with ADHD show differences, but I now hope to have shown convincing evidence … that will reach the general public,” said Hoogman, “and show that it has [a basis in the brain] just like other psychiatric disorders. … We know that ADHD deals with stigma, but we also know that increasing knowledge will reduce stigma.”

The researchers were able to conclude that the brain differences were not related to medication people took, to other psychiatric disorders people with ADHD may also have had, or even to the severity of their symptoms.

The smaller brain structures in children with ADHD but not in adults fits with a “delayed peak volume” theory that ADHD is associated with an “altered velocity of cortical development,” the authors said. That is, their brain development may be delayed compared with children who do not have ADHD, but it may catch up as they grow into adulthood.

Finding that the amygdala, the brain’s emotional regulator, had the greatest volume reduction in ADHD was particularly important to the researchers because of the ubiquity of emotional problems in the disorder. The study might be relevant for updates to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the guidebook psychiatrists use to identify conditions. “Those [emotional] symptoms are often present in patients with ADHD,” the authors wrote, “but these disease characteristics have not [yet] been included into the official DSM criteria.”

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CanFASD is looking for volunteers! We want to hear from adults with FASD about their successes at work

CanFASD is doing a study with the University of Alberta to look at employment successes of adults with FASD.

There are two parts to the study:

  1. A short survey. This can be completed on the phone, online, or on paper.
  2. A video. We will be taking short clips of people talking about their successes at work. This part of the study is optional.

Are you coming to the International Conference on FASD in Vancouver this March? 

CanFASD and he U of A are hoping to find volunteers to complete the study at the conference. They welcome service providers, caregivers, and adults with FASD to visit Dr. Jacqueline Pei or Dr. Katy Flannigan at the CanFASD conference booth for more information. You can also contact Katy ( any time if you have questions before the conference. Hope to see you there!

Another post will be up soon with information about how to do the study if you are not coming to the Vancouver conference.


Network Meetings March 7, 2017 Agenda


Date: Tuesday March 7th, 2017

Location: Catholic Social Services – 10320 146 Street

Supports and Services Meeting: 8:30 – 9:30 am, AGENDA

  1. Call to order
  2. Approval last meeting minutes
  3. Reporting
  4. Finances
  5. Short-Term Crisis Intervention Worker
  6. Additions
  7. Program Updates

 EFAN Society Meeting: 9:30 – 11:30 am, AGENDA

  1. Call to order
  2. Approval last meeting minutes
  3. Finances
  4. New Research
  5. Prevention Conversation Youth Project Update
  6. Council, Interagency, Committee Updates
  7. Additions
  8. Program Updates

Click to download agenda:  efan-agenda-march-2017



Social work faculty co-hosts conference to raise awareness of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder


By Scott Strasser, February 14 2017 —

The Faculty of Social Work co-hosted a conference to raise awareness of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) from Feb. 5–9. The conference was held at Hotel Alma at the University of Calgary.

The faculty co-hosted the event alongside the Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Flin Flon, Manitoba and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). The inaugural event aimed to educate members of Canada’s Head Start Program sites of new developments in FASD research.

“This is the first ever national training event like this and we’re really focused on a strengths-based perspective and positive outcome for children and families,” said U of C social work professor Dorothy Badry, whose research specializes in FASD.

FASD is a disability caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol. According to the Canada FASD Research Network, there are no confirmed statistics on the number of Canadians with FASD, but prenatal alcohol exposure is “considered the most common known cause of developmental disability in the western world.”

The disorder can result in physical development problems, as well as learning and behavioural difficulties later in life.

According to PHAC, the disorder is more common in indigenous communities than non-indigenous ones. A 1997 study of an indigenous reserve in Manitoba showed FASD was present in as many as 101 per 1,000 births in that community.

New Canadian diagnostic guidelines on FASD were developed at the College of New Caledonia in British Columbia and published in 2015.

The conference at the U of C was meant to bring more recent information on the disorder to indigenous communities across the country.

“It’s about bringing the information across Canada to the Aboriginal Head Start programs so there can be information disseminated among each of the provinces,” conference facilitator Lisa Lothian said.

The Aboriginal Head Start program promotes education and childcare programs in indigenous communities across the country. There are 134 Head Start sites across Canada.

One of the conference attendees was Dolora Parisian, the executive director of the Aboriginal Family Service Centre in Regina. She said the information presented at the conference can have a ripple-effect.

“We all watch television and we all watch commercials and we know how much alcohol is promoted, especially aimed at the younger generations,” Parisian said. “We need to counter that message with the important facts that drinking can harm an unborn baby.”

Around 25 delegates from Head Start sites across Canada attended the conference.

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Expecting sober

The next time the craving for a tall glass of wine hits you, reflect on the consequences and grab a healthy, alcohol free alternative

Try avoid drinking while you are planning to fall pregnant.

Experts are still unsure how much, if any, alcohol is completely safe for you to have while you are pregnant.

Obstetrician and gynaecologist at Netcare Alberlito Hospital, Dr Leneque X Lindeque said this advice can extend to those woman who are planning to fall pregnant, as pregnancies are usually diagnosed six weeks after conception has occurred.

Here are Dr Lindeque’s three facts about alcohol during pregnancy:

1. When you drink, alcohol passes from your blood through to the placenta, or after-birth, and directly to your baby. The liver, responsible for metabolising toxins, is the last organ to mature and does not do so until the late stages of pregnancy. For this reason your baby cannot process alcohol as well as an adult can and too much exposure to alcohol can seriously affect their development.

2. Drinking alcohol in the first few months of pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth of your baby and having a low birth weight.

3. Your unborn child could have learning difficulties, behavioral problems and a serious condition called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) characterised by poor growth, facial abnormalities and learning or behavioural problems.

So the next time the craving for a tall glass of wine hits you, reflect on the consequences and grab a healthy, alcohol free alternative.

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New social justice chief relishes chance ‘to make real difference’

Australia’s new social justice commissioner June Oscar will become the first indigenous woman to fill the role when she begins her five-year term in April.

Ms Oscar, a Bunuba leader from Western Australia whose appointment was announced yesterda­y, led the fight for Kimberle­y indigenous women to clamp down on grog sales and pioneered world-first research into fetal ­alcohol prevention.

She told colleagues at Marninwarntikura Women’s Resource Centre, where she is the chief executive, that her new job will requir­e the same collaborative approach­ as the one used to tackle social ills in her home town of Fitzroy Crossing: “As I go forward within this role, we will continue to work together to empower women, their children and families to have the life they deserve, while remaining safe and cared for by each other, and demanding that this journey has the full support­ of our nation.”

Ms Oscar will move to Sydney to fill the role vacated in August by former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner Mick Gooda, now co-chairman of the Northern Territ­ory royal commission into youth detention.

Ms Oscar said her decades working in Kimberley communit­ies was “challenging and at times daunting, but because we do it ­together, it is possible”.

In 2007, she faced physical threats from community and family members and legal opposition from local hoteliers when leading the fight to achieve Western Australia’s toughest grog restrictions.

It led to a ban on full-strength takeaway alcohol in Fitzroy Crossing, but locals had already realised that many children were displaying signs of alcohol-­related disability, or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

In 2009, Ms Oscar helped initiat­e Australia’s first research partnership into FASD, which ­revealed that as many as one in five children in the Fitzroy Valley had permanent brain damage as a result of their mother’s drinking while pregnant.

Her Order of Australia in 2013 for services to her people was followe­d in May last year by the Desmond Tutu Global Reconciliation Fellowship Award.

She said yesterday that she was ­apprehensive but excited to be taking up her role as social justice commissioner.

“It makes a real and positive difference to people’s lives today and over the long term,” Ms Oscar said.

Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs said she was delighted that an indigenous woman had been appointed to the role for the first time.

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