MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit

ADHD and language problems

Language problems and ADHD symptoms: How specific are the links?


In this study, data from the first 254 children attending the CALM clinic was used to explore links between symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity and language difficulties. Pragmatic communication skills, which are associated with the social use of language, were measured by parent-ratings. Structural language skills, which include using phonology, syntax and semantics, was measured by parent-ratings and children’s performance on standardised assessments of reading, spelling, vocabulary, and phonological awareness. A single dimension of behaviour problems including both hyperactivity and inattention captured behaviour problems. This was strongly and negatively associated with pragmatic communication skills. There was less evidence for a relationship between behaviour and language structure: behaviour ratings were only weakly associated with the use of structural language in communication, and there were no links with direct measures of literacy. These behaviour problems and pragmatic communication difficulties co-occur in this sample, but impairments in the more formal use of language that impact on literacy and structural communication skills are tied less strongly to behavioural difficulties. One interpretation is that impairments in executive function give rise to both behavioural and social communication problems, and additional or alternative deficits in other cognitive abilities impact on the development of structural language skills.


Lead researchers: Erin Hawkins, Career Development Fellow, and Joni Holmes, Senior Investigator Scientist


Publication: Hawkins, E., Gathercole, S.E., Astle, D., CALM Team, & Holmes, J. (under revision). Language problems and ADHD symptoms: How specific are the links?

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