09/05/2016 11:53 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:52 PM AEST

ADHD Research Finds Brains Of Kids 'Significantly' Different In MRI Study

It's not just children behaving badly.

New Australian research claims to have ended long-running debate about whether Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) exists in children, finding "compelling evidence" that it's a real medical condition.

The James Cook University research, published on Monday, looked at 174 studies involving MRI scans comparing the brain function of people diagnosed with ADHD against a control group.

The research examined how the brains of those in both groups reacted to things like emotional images, reaction time tasks and memory tests.

The ADHD group had "significant neural anatomical and processing differences", the research concluded.

Lead researcher Helen Boon hoped the work would help stamp out the belief among some teachers and parents that ADHD was not a genuine condition.

"International surveys indicate that many teachers are ambivalent about recognising ADHD as a real disease. They don't know how to approach it and they get frustrated," she said.

"The brain circuitry in someone with ADHD is different from someone without -- no question."

The research comes amid reports of a surge in ADHD rates, especially among adults, with studies suggesting the condition is becoming more recognised in older people.

ADHD is one of the most prevalent childhood health impairments with reported rates up to 10 percent, according to Boon. Up to 80 percent of cases identified in childhood persist into adult life.

There is ongoing controversy surrounding whether children are being over-diagnosed with the condition after a 50-fold increase on spending on ADHD drugs in the US over the past 20 years.

In Australia, doctors have warned that the overuse of psycho-stimulants to treat ADHD can lead to increased anxiety, insomnia and even heart attack or stroke.

Boon said given the findings students with ADHD should have access to the same help at school as other kids with disabilities.

"It is clear that students with ADHD need to have access to special educational provision through the public education system under the Disabilities Act, like others with disabilities such as hearing impairment or autism," she said.

She said research showed cognitive and behavioural approaches, rather than medication, were the best way to help children with ADHD, despite "the problem manifesting itself physically".