For children in the United States, bicycle accidents are one of the most common causes of serious injuries—especially for children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Children with ADHD are more likely to get into bicycle accidents than children without ADHD. Researchers at the University of Iowa (UI) wanted to find out why. Their study demonstrates that children with ADHD struggle with two aspects of crossing the street while cycling: decision and action. The researchers hope their findings will lead to making bicycling safer for children with ADHD.
For the study, 63 children, aged 10 to 14, rode a stationary bicycle in a real-time cycling simulation. Twenty-seven of the children were diagnosed with ADHD and not taking medication at the time of the study. The simulation used three projection screens to show images of a typical town. The children crossed 12 intersections with continuous traffic.
In selecting when to cross the street, children with and without ADHD chose similarly sized gaps to ride through. However, the children with ADHD had less precise timing than their peers without ADHD. After a period of heavy traffic, the children with ADHD struggled to adjust their timing to lighter traffic. They continued to selected shorter gaps even after the traffic eased up. In contrast, children without ADHD chose the larger gaps more frequently.
“What we found is the timing issues were more related to symptoms of inattention while the decisions about which gaps to cross were related to hyperactivity and impulsivity—all core symptoms of ADHD,” stated corresponding author Molly Nikolas, assistant professor in the UI Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences.
The researchers suggest that the best way to help children with ADHD learn to navigate busy intersections is to teach them to look for long gaps between cars, no matter how dense the traffic.
“Even if their timing remains off, if they have a big enough gap, they will be OK. If we can have some intervention or prevention strategies that focus on the decision making, that may help compensate for the timing deficit,” said Nikolas.
This research is published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.