UEL Baby Dev Lab

Early Development Pathways to Later-Life ADHD

Early Development Pathways to Later-Life ADHD

Although ADHD tends to be diagnosed only when children reach school age, we know that children who go on to show a diagnoses of ADHD show behavioural changes that are detectable as early as infancy. For example, in our earlier work we and others have shown that infants later diagnosed with ADHD tend to show a higher level of physical activity, and to be more reactive with more negative moods. Importantly, our research also suggested that the changes in attention and concentration that impact school attainment do not emerge until later in development.

In this study, funded by the Medical Research Council, we will study whether these early-emerging differences in activity and negative mood contribute to later-emerging differences in attention by affecting how much a child can practice their concentration skills. To test this, we will use state-of-the-art methods to measure fine-grained behaviours and brain activity during children’s everyday interactions. We will look at how children generate opportunities to concentrate on things through how they interact with objects and people around them. We will also look at how these interactions are disrupted by activity and negative mood in children developing ADHD.

You can read a tweet thread about the project here:

First (Aim 1), we will use wearable brain imaging and motion tracking to study toddlers at elevated likelihood of developing ADHD. We will measure how activity and negative moods ‘interrupt’ real-world attention episodes and attentive brain states, and test whether this weakens key attention networks over time.

Second (Aim 2), we will collect day-long home recordings using cameras, microphones and autonomic monitors worn by children and their parents. We will measure how toddlers’ increased activity and negative mood can prevent shared parent-child attention states from developing; and how disrupted shared parent-child attention states affect long-term development. Again, by repeating these assessments at three timepoints we will test how these effects emerge over time.

Finally (Aim 3), we shall run an experimental intervention to test whether giving ‘live’, time-sensitive real-time feedback to parents can break the loop between increased child activity/negative moods and decreased child attention. In particular, we will investigate whether it is possible to help parents to support their child’s emerging attention by focusing on timing of when parents give prompts to their child.

Taken together our work is designed to test a new mechanistic model for understanding how ADHD symptoms emerge. Once data collection is underway (in winter 2023/2024) we will post updates from the project as we go.

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