In this post I’d like to try and explain - as simply as possible - the importance of neurotransmitters, and how a person with ADHD is enormously influenced (for the better and for the worse) by the fluctuating levels in their body.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word Neurotransmitter as:

“A chemical substance which is released at the end of a nerve fibre by the arrival of a nerve impulse and, by diffusing across the synapse or junction, effects the transfer of the impulse to another nerve fibre, a muscle fibre, or some other structure.”

Put more easily, these are brain chemicals which communicate information to nerve cells, and regulate our behaviour and emotions.

When these brain chemicals are lowered in effectiveness or the levels occasionally dip or peak, they become out of ‘synch’ which impacts on our behaviour.

trio dopamine serotonin norepinephrineNorepinephrine (also known as noradrenalin)

In the “flight or fight” moment of fear, or the excitement of competition, the adrenalin “rush” is flushed through the body.  It’s the body’s preparation for additional energy and alertness in these moments.

Too little norepinephrine (pronounced nora-pinna-frin) has sometimes been associated with depression, whereas too much norepinephrine brings about feelings of restlessness and the need to move.

So if you have a student in your class (with ADHD) who shows extremes of impulsive behaviour, moving around a lot, and hyperactive, it’s because they have experienced a surge of norepinephrine.

calling outDopamine

Dopamine acts on the pleasure and reward sections of the brain, and normal levels will help regulate emotional responses.  People with ADHD have tended to have low levels of Dopamine, which contributes towards their inability to self regulate in terms of behaviour.  Research shows that people with low dopamine activity also may be more prone to addiction and/or risk-taking (www.psychologytoday.com)

In class, low levels of Dopamine may appear as incessant talking, calling out all the time, inappropriate language.

Serotonin

This neurotransmitter is associated with feelings of depression and anxiety.  Some antidepressants (such as Prozac) work on the brain to increase serotonin levels and their interaction with other neurotransmitters.

As the balance of neurotransmitter ‘messages’ will be seen as a spiky profile in the ADHD brain, there is a high chance of depression and/or mood swings.

In terms of managing behavior in class, these points will have demonstrated how neurotransmitters have a vast impact on our behaviours, particularly for students with ADHD.