a teenage girl whispering in another girl's earDoes having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affect a person’s ability to communicate? According to a pair of studies from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, a person’s ADHD severity is associated with his or her ability to communicate effectively. The findings may aid in the development of interventions for ADHD that could help people with the disorder fare better in social contexts.

The researchers conducted the same experiment with two groups of people. The study was run once with a group of children with ADHD and a group without ADHD. The second round involved children with varying levels of ADHD severity. In both studies, the children participated in a communication task, working in pairs: one child moved objects in a display case based on the instructions from the other child, whose view of the objects was obstructed. The researchers collected data using video cameras positioned such that they could observe where the participants were looking.

The results showed that the participants with ADHD made more errors in selecting which objects to move based on their partner’s instructions. The findings suggest that the individuals with more severe ADHD symptoms had the most difficulty in interpreting the speaker’s directions. This may be because children with ADHD are not able to sufficiently attend to the speaker.

This could lead to new interventions to help people with ADHD learn how to communicate and interact with others more effectively. The research team is also looking in to how these findings may relate to other social behaviors in the hope of facilitating a broader understanding of ADHD behaviors in social situations.

“Our findings are important because they allow us to think about possible remediation strategies … If we have a better sense of what is causing the difficulties in communication and then target remediation at these particular skills, intervention programs may be able to achieve more beneficial outcomes,” said Professor Elizabeth Nilsen, study co-author.

This research is published in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research and in the Journal of Attention Disorders.

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