The Barkley Model to Explain ADHD

What is ADHD? How does it arise and why? We explain it to you through the Barkley model.

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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a childhood onset disorder. Several have been the explanations that have been given about its origin and development. However, one of them has attracted a lot of attention: the Barkley model.

This disorder has a persistent pattern of inattentive behaviors, excess activity and difficulty controlling impulses or impulsivity. We are facing one of the most studied disorders in child psychopathology. This is demonstrated by the thousands of articles published on the subject.

Initially it was based on a medical approach. Subsequently, behavioral, neurocognitive, genetic and social approaches appeared. This has enriched the compression of this problem. Let us think that the dominant approach throughout the first half of the last century was purely medical. It was considered that ADHD was caused by a neurological disorder; an alteration was caused by some type of brain injury.

The main symptoms of the disorder were short periods of attention, low concentration, impulsiveness and inability to delay gratifications. All this used to manifest itself in school problems.

From the medical model to the behavioral model

The lack of evidence of the medical syndrome contributed to the search for a more functional definition of ADHD. Thus, ADHD came to be characterized as a behavioral disorder. According to this approach, excessive activity was the most salient aspect.

However, in 1972 it was argued that the basic deficiency of hyperactive children was not the excessive degree of activity. The basic deficiency was his inability to maintain attention and his impulsiveness. Most of the problems experienced by children with ADHD are the result of insufficient self-regulation.

Current perspective of ADHD

The current perspective on ADHD is reflected in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). It is also reflected in the WHO International Classification of Mental Disorders.

The essential feature of this disorder is a persistent pattern of inattention and / or hyperactivity-impulsivity. This pattern is more frequent and severe than that usually observed in people of a similar level of development.

The resulting symptoms make adaptation difficult and manifest in specific behavioral characteristics. Its repercussions are negative in the cognitive, personal and social development. In addition, they hinder school learning and the daily functioning of the person.

The Barkley model

Research on the origin of ADHD has been predominantly atheoretical, exploratory and descriptive. Despite the advances there are still important inconsistencies on the mechanisms that underlie it.

The model of Barkley (model of inhibition) understands that the basic problem of hyperactive children is a deficit in behavioral inhibition. This deficit would negatively affect four neuropsychological functions that depend on behavioral inhibition for its correct execution.

The four executive functions of the Barkley model

These four functions are the following: operational memory, self-regulation of motivation and affect, internalization of language and reconstitution (processes of analysis and synthesis). These executive functions in turn influence the motor system, which controls goal-directed behavior.

These functions also affect other neuropsychological systems, such as sensory, perceptual, linguistic, mnemonic and emotional. Working memory (operational memory) allows you to retain information while working on a task, even if the stimulus has disappeared.

The deficit of self-regulation of affect, motivation and activation disables children with ADHD to control emotional responses to a specific event. This would make them manifest their emotions in public, according to the model of Barkley.

The internalization of language also tends to present a delay in these children. This immaturity in the internal language could cause the difficulties of people with ADHD to adopt a behavior governed by rules and the delay in moral development.

Less mature and less creative game

The deficiency in the reconstitution, analysis and synthesis of the behavior would incapacitate the hyperactive child to analyze the situations and behaviors, as well as hinder the resolution of problems. It has been found that they have a poorer performance in verbal verbal fluency tasks and that the solutions they provide to the problems are less adequate.

According to the Barkley model, it would probably also be evident in the execution of non-verbal tasks that require new and complex motor sequences. These four executive functions would in turn influence the motor system.

There are other models developed with the aim of explaining ADHD. Despite the terminological changes and the different emphasis given to specific manifestations of ADHD over time, the fundamental symptoms have hardly changed.