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Children with ADHD More Likely to Have Increased Sensory Challenges

New research links sensory issues like delayed tactile processing to ADHD in children. Higher levels of inattention and lower levels of neurotransmitters may be to blame, but the exact cause is unclear.




October 20, 2017

A recent study1 suggests that children with ADHD may be more likely to struggle with sensory-integration issues like stimulus differentiation and reaction to touch.

The study, published this month in The Journal of Neurophysiology, examined 129 children between the ages of eight and 12, approximately half of whom had been diagnosed with ADHD. The children all underwent tactile functioning tests where weak levels of vibration were applied to the fingers. The children were asked to press a button when they began to feel the sensations, and to identify which finger started receiving vibrations first.

The children with ADHD had much slower reaction times to the vibrations, the researchers said, and were less likely than the control group to feel the weaker sensations applied to their fingers. The study’s authors hypothesized this was due to higher levels of inattention and lower levels of neurotransmitters that regulate nerve function. The exact cause, however, remains unclear — as does the link to sensory processing disorder (SPD), which often co-occurs in children with ADHD and can manifest as muted responses to physical sensations.

“There is likely a complex interplay of different factors, which need further investigation,” the researchers wrote. “Understanding these mechanisms may provide a potential target for future therapies to address sensory symptoms, both through pharmacological and behavioral interventions.”


1 Puts, Nicolaas A J, et al. “Altered Tactile Sensitivity in Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder.” Journal of Neurophysiology, Feb. 2017, doi:10.1152/jn.00087.2017.

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