The January, 2016 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics (JAMA Pediatrics) published an editorial, “Rethinking Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder,” by Dimitri Christakis, MD, MPH. Dr. Christakis is a pediatrician and researcher who specializes in studying the effects of environmental stimulation, including media, on early childhood development. His JAMA article reviews the history of research on the development of executive functioning during childhood, the research on the genetics of ADHD (which finds a significant, but for most children relatively small genetic factor), and the effects of an overstimulating environment on the developing brain, especially during the first three years.
For many years, my laboratory has been exploring what we call the overstimulation hypothesis: the notion that overstimulating the developing brain in the first years of life will condition it to expect high levels of input and will lead to shorter attention spans later. We have found that exposure to rapidly paced television programs in the first 3 years of life increases the risk of attentional deficits at school age. We also found that cognitive stimulation during that same period in terms of reading, singing, and playing with children decreases the risk of attentional deficits. Simply put, there are things that we can do for children that maximize their genetic potential. Unfortunately, we are not doing them.
A related article published online by NPR, “We’re Thinking About ADHD All Wrong, Says A Top Pediatrician,” was published on January 4, 2016. The article provides a summary of Dr. Christakis’ research and thinking, a supportive comments by another top pediatrician, who advocates that pediatrics needs to “proactively support attention functioning” in all children, but especially ones with attention problems.
This information may be helpful for mental health professionals who provide services to all children, but particularly for ADHD specialists, who want to be up to date on broad and progressive thinking about ADHD and child development. It may also be passed on to parents who are concerned about an active and distractible child. This info also could be used to market progressive pediatric behavioral services to PCPs and pediatricians.