ADHD is like having a Formula 1 car with bicycle wheels and a team of mechanics on strike during the race… but technology is here to help!

Sam Hickmann
Published in
5 min readFeb 7, 2020


Imagine being the pilot of a Formula 1 car. You have at your disposal 1,000hp (a V6 twin-turbo + an electrical engine). The car is extremely aerodynamic and weights barely 1,450 pounds (660 kg). It can reach speeds over 240 mph (380 kph).

You will have to race against 19 other pilots for about 2 hours per Grand-prix (22 races in total) on tracks that have in average 12 corners. You will have to change directions over 720 times. You will have to break 720 times by applying 350 pounds (160 kg) of force with one foot. You will lose 1 gallon (3 kg) of water. Your degree of attention and focus will have to be 100% at all time. You will finish each race totally exhausted.
Your team of mechanics will continuously monitor your health and the performance of the car. They will tweak the settings in real time. They will change the tyres (in less than 2 seconds) twice during a single race. They will ask you to give them feedback on how the car behaves. Each parameters can cost you time. Wrong pressure in a tyre? 0.2 seconds per lap. Wrong type of tyre? 3 seconds. Tyre too cold? 2 seconds.

Now, imagine going to your first race with the best Formula 1 car but… equipped with bicycle wheels! Oh, and your team of mechanics is on strike!
You have now this super powerful car that is very hard to control and nobody to help you. What do you think will happen?

The metaphor of a race car with bicycle brakes was first introduced by Dr. Hallowell in his book Delivered from Distraction to describe what is ADHD, and I couldn’t agree more. Children with ADHD are extremely smart but their brain can’t stop racing, causing difficulties to stay focused. Impulsivity, hyperactivity and sometimes physical aggressions are other common symptoms. They often struggle in school and might have problems interacting with others.

11% of children 4–17 years old in the US are diagnosed with ADHD. It’s the most expensive childhood disorder.

ADHD treatments for children exist. However, 23% of diagnosed kids don’t receive any of them. It’s a shame when you know that therefore only 5% will graduate from college.
Out of 30% who receive medication treatments alone, 70% have fewer symptoms. Some experience side effects. Drugs don’t cure ADHD. As soon as you stop taking them, symptoms come back.
That’s why behavioral therapies are recommended. They teach kids valuable cognitive and organizational skills that will help them their entire life. 15% receive behavioral treatments alone, and 32% receive both behavioral and medication treatments.

Today’s treatments are episodic. You go once a month or once a week to see your primary care physician to renew the medication prescription and/or your behavioral therapist who will review the daily report cards you filled since the last visit. She will adapt the treatment accordingly.
Going back to the Formula 1 analogy, it’s like if the mechanics check and adjust the car a week before the race, and hope for the best…

The time for improvements has arrived.

Do you know that current technology can track in real-time the cognitive load and the emotional power of a child with almost 90% accuracy?

In 1849, a german physician observed that human skin was electrically active. 30 years later in Switzerland, 2 other physicians demonstrated a connection between electrodermal activity (EDA) and sweat glands. In France, a researcher related EDA to psychological activity. It is then in 1889, in Russia, that Ivane Tarkhnishvili developed a meter to observe the variations in skin electrical potentials as they happened in real time.
Since then, scientific studies using EDA instruments in psychoanalysis flourished everywhere in the world.

Long story short, the skin conductance is not under conscious control. It is modulated by sympathetic activity which drives human behavior, cognitive and emotional states on a subconscious level. If you pair it with the analysis of heart rate variability, you can also detect the stress level with incredible accuracy. To eliminate false positive, it is wise to monitor physical activity at the same time because obviously, if you run, you will sweat and your heart beat will increase. You don’t want this data to mess with your cognitive, emotional and stress analysis.

What’s the relation with ADHD you ask?

In 2020, the state of technology is such — miniaturization and computing power — that it is now possible to implement an EDA sensor, a heart rate sensor (photoplethysmograph) and a motion sensor in a really small form factor like a smartwatch or a wristband that children can wear in total discretion.

At JOY, we have started a clinical trial that continuously monitors children diagnosed with ADHD in order to improve their treatments and give them biofeedback in real-time.

Technology will allow caregivers to monitor kids with ADHD like never before. They will finally be able to provide real evidence-based treatments, based on continuous observations, data-driven.

Technology will allow kids with ADHD to focus their energy. The wearable will buzz when they are inattentive, will ask them to breath when it detects a surge of stress, will reward them when it recognizes a deep cognitive load, will check on them when it flags an emotional arousal.

Technology is about to give to the Formula 1 brain the wheels, the breaks and the team of mechanics it deserves to leverage their superpowers. 🏎

Stay tuned for the first results.