Two million American children have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It's so common now that one child in a classroom of 25 or 30 will have the disorder. But parents often struggle a long time to figure out exactly what's going on in their child's head. Is he tired? Is she confused? Is he just acting up? Does she need help?
Dr. Fernando Miranda, a neurologist at the Bright Minds Institute in San Francisco, says diagnosing children with behavioral disorders like ADHD and autism without looking at their brains is like trying to diagnose heart problems without actually looking at the heart. Click here to read a story about Miranda's autism research.
On the other hand, some of Miranda's patients have found they had an attention deficit problem and didn't even know it. Miranda, and many other doctors, believe more objective tools for figuring out these puzzles are critical.
From an early age, 9-year-old Danny Rodgers had trouble speaking.
Danny's words were in his head; they just couldn't seem to find a way out. Embarrassed, he avoided talking altogether and stopped trying to make friends.
Danny's grandparents, Jeanne and Howard Rodgers, who have been raising him and his sister, Meghan, since their mother died, said the school system recommended speech therapy, and patience.
"They kept saying, 'He'll grow out of it. He'll grow out of it '," said Jeanne Rodgers.
But he never did .
"He'd cry a lot and say, 'I don't' like my life. I don't like what I'm doing. I don't want to go to school,'" said Danny's grandmother.
They went to see Miranda at the Bright Minds Institute, and Miranda took a different approach to treating Danny.
Danny was wired for a qunatitative electroencephalography, or EEG, a very sophisticated test that measures a brain's electrical output in response to certain stimuli. He also underwent a comprehensive neuropsychological exam, and magnetic resonance imaging of the brain.
Those tests revealed a lot of surprises.
"This child's IQ was 138," Miranda said. "And that's huge. That's so bright."
One EEG measurement, called a P300, showed normal and abnormal electrical impulses in Danny's brain with a series of bright colors.
Reading the scan, Miranda said Danny was not "perceiving" speech in the superior temporal gyrus.
Translation: Danny has what's known as an auditory processing issue. It wasn't so much that he was having trouble speaking or pronouncing things -- his brain wasn't understanding speech correctly.
Danny's problem was not a standard speech issue at all, and his years of conventional therapy were off target.
Miranda pointed out a group of squiggly lines on the scan, showing Danny was likely to have an attention problem.
In a normal EEG, those squiggly lines would not be there in the frontal lobe section of this recording. Using those tests and other physical and behavioral information, Miranda diagnosed Danny with ADHD.
"The areas of the brain that are involved in attention deficits are many, and unless you know which one specifically is the one that you're addressing, that is not functioning very well, you cannot prescribe the right medication for it," Miranda said.
For Danny, that meant the puzzle was solved in ways his grandparents never would have guessed.
"He wasn't a hyper child at all," Jeanne Rodgers said