By Rachael Rettner
There are three distinct types of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) that match up with children’s personalities, some researchers suggest.
What’s more, looking at these ADHD types is better than the current diagnostic methods in predicting which children will go on to develop further mental-health problems, the researchers said in the new study.
The finding of these three types is preliminary, and won’t be used in diagnosis anytime soon, but it shows that it’s possible to classify mental-health disorders in a manner that’s based more on biology than symptoms, which may help researchers better understand the underlying cause of these conditions, the researchers said.
The new findings “set the stage” for improving the classification of mental-health disorders, the researchers said.
If the existence of these three types is confirmed by future research, “it has a lot of implications for targeting interventions more directly to the kids who are most at risk” of developing future problems, said study researcher Sarah Karalunas, an ADHD researcher at Oregon Health & Science University.
As with most mental-health disorders, ADHD is currently diagnosed based on people’s behavior — kids with ADHD can have problems holding attention, following instructions and staying in their seat when they’re told to. There are currently three types of ADHD: predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive and combined presentation (which has symptoms of both inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity).
However, the criteria currently used to diagnose ADHD do not identify the underlying causes of a child’s behavioral problems, and don’t tell parents whether their kids’ ADHD will get better or worse with time, Karalunas said.
In the new study, the researchers set out to see whether there was a way to divide up children with ADHD that would tell researchers more about the biological causes or future outcomes of the condition, Karalunas said.
The study involved 247 children with ADHD ages 7 to 11, and 190 children without ADHD. Parents answered questions about their child’s temperament, such as whether their child likes to be physically active, likes rowdy activity, is warm and friendly, or gets angry when he or she makes a mistake.
A child’s temperament emerges very early in life, Karalunas said. It is thought to be based on biological factors, and is related to personality in adulthood.
The researchers then looked to see whether they could group the children based on their temperaments. They found that kids with ADHD clustered into three groups, which the researchers called “mild ADHD,” “surgent ADHD” and “irritable ADHD.”