A lesser-known symptom of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is difficulty with social functions. According to a new study, social problems and ADHD symptoms may impact each other. The study, from researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), the Regional Centre for Child and Youth Mental Health and Child Welfare in Trondheim, and the University of California, Davis, reports that social issues exacerbate ADHD symptoms and ADHD symptoms worsen social symptoms, forming a viscous cycle. The results suggest that helping children with ADHD overcome social problems may lead to the amelioration of symptoms overall.
The study included 962 Norwegian children, aged four, six, and eight years, enrolled in the Trondheim Early Secure Study. The study, conducted in 2007 and 2008, gathered data from a representative sample of children in Trondheim. Data about the children came from parent interviews and questionnaires, teacher questionnaires, and diagnostic interviews. In the interview, the researchers assessed the children’s levels of ADHD symptoms. They did not determine how many of the children in the cohort had a diagnosis of ADHD.
The researchers found a reciprocal relationship between ADHD symptoms and peer rejection at ages four and six. Having more ADHD symptoms at age four predicted more peer rejection at age six. Likewise, more peer rejection at age four predicted more ADHD symptoms at age six. There was less evidence for this relationship between ages six and eight. For six-year-olds, ADHD symptoms did negatively impact peer rejection, but by age eight, the effect of ADHD symptoms on peer function had largely vanished.
Lead researcher Frode Stenseng, associate professor of psychology at NTNU explains, “In other words, symptoms of ADHD in preschoolers—that is, four-year-olds—may lead to more peer rejection later on in school, and early peer rejection may lead to more ADHD symptoms among those children already showing symptoms. However, later on, we did not see a pattern that was reciprocal. Instead, from ages six to eight, greater earlier peer rejection was more likely to lead to more ADHD symptoms, but ADHD symptoms at this age and later did not lead to more peer rejection.”
The study emphasizes the importance of factoring social interventions into ADHD treatments. Helping children understand how to interact with peers could have a beneficial effect on ADHD symptoms.
This research is published in the journal Child Development.
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