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Biomedical Engineering Application Brief

Meeks Associates, Inc.

Description


Littleton Meeks at Meeks Associates, Inc. is developing a computerized means of using handwriting analysis to diagnose Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children.

Location


Lincoln, MA

Handwriting Analysis

The Problem


The behavior of a child who has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can be disruptive in a classroom as well as within the family. These children have short attention spans and are easily distracted. They also may be characteristically impatient and impulsive. While all children exhibit this behavior to some extent, this behavior in children with ADHD is excessive and inappropriate for the child's age.

Difficult Diagnosis


While this disruptive behavior may be clearly evident at home or in school, it may not be apparent all of the time. In some situations the child may be able to focus attention for extended periods of time when confronted with novel environments or challenging activities. The sporadic nature of this learning disability can make it difficult to diagnose. Individual differences among the children also complicate the diagnosis. Clinicians tend to use a multi-featured assessment in the diagnosis including history, behavioral ratings from questionnaires, clinical observations and psychological tests of attention.

Systematically Varying Dosage


Physicians generally treat the symptoms of ADHD with stimulant medication, such as methylphenidate (Ritalin). The effectiveness of this medicine has been established in controlled studies and is recognized by parents and teachers. Clinicians set the individual medication level by systematically varying the dosage and attempting to assess the resulting positive clinical effects versus the side effects.

Prescribing the Correct Dosage


The use of Ritalin or other stimulants can increase the child's attention focus and reduce the hyperactivity. The drug is typically prescribed for elementary age children, although it may be effective in teenagers and adults with ADHD. The length of time these children may take Ritalin can vary from a few years to a much longer period of time. The overuse of Ritalin has recently come under attack placing an increased emphasis on prescribing the correct dosage of the drug.

Assessing ADHD with Handwriting


In a study funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Littleton Meeks of Meeks Associates, Inc. has used a computer to analyze the handwriting of children with ADHD. These studies have looked at handwriting of children when they are unmedicated and medicated using Ritalin. Meeks is hoping to develop a test instrument to diagnose ADHD, as well as evaluate the effects of Ritalin on handwriting, perhaps providing an algorithm to allow a proper dosage level to be set for an individual child.