Many ADHD Kids Also Have Reading Problems

Researchers Say Children With ADHD Should Also Be Checked for Reading Disabilities

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on September 27, 2010
From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 24, 2010 -- About half of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may experience problems with reading, according to a new study in Pediatrics.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 3% to 5% of children have ADHD, a behavioral disorder marked by difficulty paying attention, impulsive behaviors, and hyperactivity.

“Our findings clearly demonstrate that it is essential for clinicians to assess all children with ADHD for the presence of comorbid reading disability,” conclude the researchers, who were led by Kouichi Yoshimasu, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

ADHD: Boys vs. Girls

The new study included 5,718 children born between 1976 and 1982 who remained in Rochester, Minn., after age 5. Researchers reviewed medical, school, and private tutoring records to determine how many children experienced reading difficulty before graduating from high school. They found that 51% of boys with ADHD had reading problems, as did 46.7% of girls with ADHD.

By contrast, 14.5% of boys and 7.7% of girls without ADHD had problems with reading, the study shows. Boys without ADHD were twice as likely to experience reading difficulties compared to girls without ADHD.

“This study confirms what has been found in a number of studies of children with ADHD in a clinical setting,” says Richard Gallagher, PhD, an associate professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the New York University Child Study Center in New York City.

This community-based sample is helpful because not all kids with reading disabilities or ADHD seek medical treatment, he says.

“Reading disability is a pretty frequent concern even among children with ADHD who are not coming into treatment,” he tells WebMD.

“In many cases, children show signs of ADHD before they begin to attend school or early on in their schooling,” he says. “We need to be very careful to monitor their development of reading skills.”

Checking for Learning Disorders

“We’ve known for some time that learning disabilities are significantly more common among kids with ADHD as opposed to kids without ADHD [but] I’m not sure clinicians, parents and educators appreciated just how common learning disabilities like reading disorder are among this population of kids,” says Stephen Grcevich, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Family Center by the Falls in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, in an email.

“In my mind, the main message is that kids, regardless of gender, who don’t experience a fairly immediate, dramatic response in academic performance, including reading performance following initiation of treatment for ADHD should be evaluated for the presence of concomitant learning disorders,” he says. “Many physicians have thought about the connection between ADHD and learning disorders as an ‘either-or’ phenomena -- in fact, for a large percentage of kids with ADHD, they likely have both problems.”

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Yoshimasu, K. Pediatrics, 2010.

Richard Gallagher, PhD, associate professor of adolescent psychiatry, New York University Child Study Center.

Stephen Grcevich, MD, child and adolescent psychiatrist, Family Center by the Falls, Chagrin Falls, Ohio.

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