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ADHD in Children Health Center

Attention Problems Lead to Reading Difficulties, Not Vice Versa

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July 21, 2000 -- Many children with attention problems also have difficulties with reading. But which causes which: Does poor reading ability shorten a child's attention span in the classroom, or does failure to pay attention hamper the ability to read?

New research from Duke University suggests it's the latter: Young schoolchildren with attention problems were likely to later develop reading difficulties, regardless of their IQs, their earlier reading achievements, and the level of their parents' involvement in their education. By the same token, poor reading ability -- even in children as old as 12 -- did not affect a child's ability to pay attention.

"The basic conclusion is that during kindergarten and, especially, first grade, significant attention problems can contribute to a child failing to acquire early reading skills to the same extent as their peers," researcher David Rabiner, PhD, tells WebMD. "When these important skills are not acquired during first grade, it significantly increases the likelihood that they will struggle with reading in the grades ahead." Rabiner is a child clinical psychologist and senior research scientist at the Center for Child and Family Policy and the department of psychology at Duke University in Durham, N.C.

Children who have problems staying focused, or are disruptive, are sometimes categorized as having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). From 4% to 12% of all school-age children have ADHD, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), making it the most common childhood neurobehavioral disorder. Problems that can result from ADHD include difficulties in school, troubled relationships with family members and peers, and behavioral problems, the AAP says.

The American Psychiatric Association lists 14 characteristics that are found in children with ADHD. For a diagnosis of the disorder, at least eight of these characteristics must be present, beginning before age 7, and must be present for at least six months. Your child may have ADHD if he or she:

  • Often fidgets or squirms
  • Has difficulty remaining seated
  • Is easily distracted
  • Has difficulty waiting his or her turn in games or group situations
  • Often blurts out answers to questions before they have been completed
  • Has difficulty following through on instructions from others
  • Has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities
  • Often shifts from one uncompleted activity to another
  • Has difficulty playing quietly
  • Often talks excessively
  • Often interrupts or intrudes on others
  • Often does not seem to listen to what is being said to him or her
  • Often loses things
  • Often engages in physically dangerous activities without considering possible consequences, and not simply for the purpose of thrill-seeking

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