adhd brain vs normal brain

ADHD Brain vs Normal Brain

ADHD Brain vs Normal Brain: Functions, Differences & More

Brain with ADHD vs Normal Brain

ADHD is an acronym for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It is a neurological disorder that affects the brain of the child. Also, It’s the first-ever disorder caused by the deficiencies of certain neurotransmitters. 

Have you ever thought of learning the brain wiring of a child with ADHD? Here are prominent differences between the ADHD brain and the normal brain. It is not just a matter of behavioral disorder. ADHD is real. Differences in brain wiring make it harder for ADHD people to mainly do different tasks – executive functions. The brain is a complex organ – which makes it more important to understand the structure and functioning of the ADHD brain.

The article focuses on providing simplified information on ADHD brain differences – its functionality, structure, chemical activity, and associated framework. 

A close-up look at the ADHD brain:

The complete etiology of ADHD is still uncovered by researchers. Different techniques like CT scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), etc., are used to study the structure of the ADHD brain. The results help researchers learn the brain size and volume of specific areas. 

Nowadays, researchers focus more on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) to reveal the oxygen uptake in different brain areas.

The fMRI and MEG are two standard non-invasive techniques that generate a very detailed structure of brain activity.

However, the fMRI results reveal that increased functional activity in some regions of the brain leads to restlessness and hyperactivity – the significant symptoms of ADHD.

The study with these techniques concludes that inefficiencies in the ADHD brain largely affect executive functioning skillssocial skills, multi-tasking, organization, impulsivity, planning, regulating focus, etc.

One major thing is that people with ADHD do not have a problem with focus – they can focus! But the issue is with regulating the focus.

It is essential to know that these brain scans are crucial to light up the differences in functionalities and structure of the ADHD brain, but these are not valid references to diagnose ADHD. ADHD is a medical diagnosis that requires proper medical assessment by health professionals like physiologists. 

Understanding the structural differences: ADHD brain

The studies proved the differences in the structure of the ADHD brain. Their brain takes more time to mature than ordinary people, impacting their day–to–day executive functioning. Executive functions are essential to execute the daily functioning of their lives. However, brain size does not affect the intelligence level. 

The gray matter in the outer layers of the ADHD brain is less than usual, affecting the information processing function – the reason ADHD kids do things or act before thinking.

The primary reason for such abnormalities is miscommunication between different brain parts. 

There are also volume differences in different brain regions like the hippocampus, amygdala, etc. The given parts are mostly affected areas of the brain due to ADHD:

  • Prefrontal cortex and frontal cortex: – The major delay is in the development of the frontal cortex, which is responsible for planning, attention, and other cognitive behavior. However, on the other hand, the motor cortex develops faster than the normal brain, which causes fidgeting and restlessness in ADHD children.
  • Striatum– It is the brain reward system – often referred to as the CEO of the brain. This part helps in processing feelings, thoughts, and emotions. Dopamine which is responsible for regulating the feelings of pleasure, reward, etc., is also processed here.


Generally, the striatum sends one signal at a time to the cortex to process the information. But in the ADHD mind, the striatum sends multiple signals to the cortex, making information processing difficult. As a consequence, ADHD kids find it hard to regulate focus. The nucleus accumbens, putamen, and caudate nucleus are significant parts of the striatum that are affected.

  • Amygdala– The amygdala plays a crucial role in controlling emotions in humans. However, this region is overactive in children with ADHD. Also, it is not well synchronized with the prefrontal cortex. Therefore, dysfunctioning in the amygdala makes it hard for ADHD kids to manage frustration or stay calm and patient.
  • Hippocampus– It is primarily linked to long-term memory, learning, motivations, etc. The dysfunction in this area leads to hyperactivity in ADHD children.
  • Nucleus accumbens– This part plays a vital role in linking motivation and action. The effective connection between the two derives – “effort”, which lacks an ADHD child. The dysfunction in these areas leads to the struggle in completing homework and assignments. When children do not feel motivated to do specific actions because of a lack of reward, they don’t put in the effort.
  • Putamen– This part contributes to managing the movement and impulsive behavior. Therefore, dysfunction in these areas causes restlessness and impulsivity in ADHD children.
  • Caudate nucleus- It is the most critical region in the human brain. This part is responsible for storing and processing memories. Typically, this part helps kids decide on actions to achieve some outcomes. Kids with ADHD can’t remember the reason to do any task. Therefore, they leave their current tasks and switch to other tasks that seem to be more interesting.
  • Reticular activating system– It is a crucial relay system among different pathways in the brain. Dysfunction in this area causes hyperactivity, inattention, etc. Proper functioning in this region is vital for maintaining the state of consciousness lacking in the children with ADHD.
  • Limbic system– It is situated deep in the center of the brain. It is said to be the watchman of our brain. It alerts humans of harmful situations. It is a kind of alarming system. And if it doesn’t work properly, a child can mess up with stress management and sleep patterns.


Understanding the functional differences: ADHD brain

Proper blood flow plays a crucial part in the functioning of the brain and body. Less blood flow contributes to the lack of executing functioning among children. Areas with less blood flow are said to be the underactive part. Therefore, children with ADHD struggle to control their emotions or maintain attention. On the contrary, regions with more blood flow are hyperactive – leading to restlessness.

adhd brain vs normal brain

Understanding the chemical differences: ADHD brain

There are different chemicals present in the brain that help in communicating between the different parts and networks of the brain. These chemicals are neurotransmitters that help move messages from one brain cell to the next. However, in the ADHD brain, these messages cannot move efficiently.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for sustaining attention and controlling the brain’s reward system. In the ADHD brain, many dopamine transporters are present without enough receptors, which causes messages to move quickly. As a result, the brain cannot process information and transmit important messages. 

Also, due to the dysfunction of dopamine – kids don’t see the daily routine work rewarding. It also makes children trouble waiting for their turn.

Norepinephrine is another neurotransmitter responsible for many crucial functions, including focus, energy levels, mood regulations, etc. It is also a stress hormone. Therefore, the improper functioning of norepinephrine causes mood swings, inattention, sluggishness, etc., among ADHD children.

Another neurotransmitter, serotonin, affects social interaction, mood, behavior, etc.

ADHD affects the brain in different ways:

  • Not enough neurotransmitters are released by sending neurons.
  • Issues in catching up the neurotransmitters by the receiving neurons.
  • The sending neurons call neurotransmitters back before they can make any meaningful connections with the receiving neurons.


What steps should I take – A word from Themba tutors

Getting your child diagnosed with ADHD is heartbreaking. It is difficult to know how to proceed further. Themba tutors have counseled a number of ADHD children and parents. We know the journey is not easy. Parents often think they have failed their child or it is just a result of poor parenting – but that’s all a myth. ADHD is a neuropsychological disorder that has nothing to do with parenting or a child’s laziness.

ADHD affects the brain, and it’s clear that they need our help!

The best solution is the multimodal approach – combine medications, behavioral therapy, executive coaching, etc. All these can help promote brain development.

Your relationship with the child is the most powerful treatment for ADHD. 

Create a comfortable environment and provide the necessary support to the ADHD child. Practice patience. Maximize your support to the child; if needed, take the help of professional coaching providers to understand your child’s needs better. Highlight your child’s strengths, efforts, interests, and accomplishments – make them feel confident. 




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Craig Selinger, CEO of Themba Tutors (serving Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Bronx, Westchester, Long Island, New Jersey, and Connecticut), is a NY State licensed speech-language pathologist, executive functioning coach, and learning specialist with over 18 years of experience working professionally with over a thousand families. His expertise includes language-based learning issues, e.g. reading, writing, speaking, and listening, executive functioning, ADHD/ADD, and learning disabilities. Check out his interviews with top-notch professionals in the field on Spotify.
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