a young child with a cell phone in her handA recent study from Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Australia found that children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have a higher prevalence of language problems than children without ADHD. Language problems are frequently linked to poorer academic functioning. This association may explain why some children with ADHD fall behind in school. The researchers suggest that children with ADHD who are not doing well in school should have their language skills assessed.

The research team assessed 391 children aged six to eight—179 with ADHD and 212 without ADHD—using a battery of standardized tests: the Conners 3 ADHD Index and the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children to evaluate levels of ADHD, the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals, Fourth Edition to evaluate language skills, and the Wide Range Achievement Test to evaluate academic functioning. They surveyed parents about their children’s social skills and teachers about their students’ academic and social abilities.

Children in the ADHD group were more likely to have language problems; 40% of the ADHD children had language issues compared to just 17% of the control group. Children with ADHD and a language problem and children with only ADHD had similar levels of medication use with 38% and 42% taking medication, respectively.

Of the children with both ADHD and a language problem 42% had sought speech language pathology services in the past and 57% were seeing a speech language pathologist at the time of the study. Only 16% of the control group had sought speech language pathology services.

Children with both ADHD and language problems had greater difficulty with academics than the children with only ADHD, which indicates that poorer academic functioning and language problems are connected in children with ADHD.

“We are concerned that few children with ADHD and language problems are currently accessing speech pathology services, especially given that language problems are related to poorer academic outcomes,” stated lead researcher Emma Sciberras, Doctor of Psychology. She explained that routine assessments for ADHD “do not generally include standardized language assessments” and suggested that children with ADHD who are not performing well academically should be referred for a language assessment because there exists strong link between language and academic achievement.

This research is published in the journal Pediatrics.

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