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Kids on Ritalin Have Smaller Brains

Children with serious attention problems have smaller brains, but scientists say medication is not to blame. A 10-year U.S. study shows that the brains of children and teenagers with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are 3% to 4% smaller than those of other children. Are their smaller brains the cause of ADHD?or the result of Ritalin and other medications? Scientists think medicines aren't the reason, because ADHD children who took no drugs had the smallest brains of all.

Children with ADHD tend to be overactive, easily distracted and impulsive. They fidget, are unable to sit still, and talk a lot, meaning they often have trouble in school. The diagnosis is becoming so widespread, however, that scientists who criticize giving drugs to children say that such activities are a normal part of childhood and that modern life doesn?t give children enough outlets for their energy. In the U.S., Ritalin is given to as many as one in 5 school-age boys.

ADHD is not associated with a low IQ?in fact, these kids are often very intelligent.Despite being smaller, the brains of ADHD kids seem to develop normally. Dr. Xavier Castellanos says, "Parents shouldn't be so concerned about the slight difference in brain volume among children with ADHD anyway, since this measurement doesn't have much meaning."

Researchers used MRI scans to compare the brains of 152 ADHD children with those of 139 children who were not diagnosed with behavioral problems. Nearly all parts of the brains of ADHD children were about 3% smaller. Children with the most severe ADHD symptoms had the smallest brain structures. The most striking size difference was found in the cerebellum, which was about 6% smaller in ADHD children. The cerebellum is involved in motor coordination, and may control the speed at which the brain works.

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