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Stressful Events in Childhood Associated with ADHD, Study Finds

Children who experience more adversity before age 14 may also exhibit more or stronger ADHD symptoms, new research claims.


June 15, 2018

Mounting evidence suggests that childhood adversity increases the risk for mental health problems, however the impact of childhood stress on symptoms of attention deficit disorder (ADD or ADHD) was previously unclear. Now, a new study1 has charted a positive correlation between the number of stressful events a child experiences and his or her ADHD symptoms, suggesting further research is warranted.

Researchers from Stanford University asked 214 children between the ages of nine and 14 to complete the Traumatic Events Screening Inventory for Children, and then measured how many negative experiences each child had before age six and after age six. The children’s parents completed the Child Behavior Checklist to capture the severity of their ADHD symptoms. The scientists captured images of each child’s brain using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, then examined the differences in brain structure and volume known to be associated with ADHD using tensor-based morphometry.

“We found a small to moderate association between number of stressful life events and ADHD symptoms,” the researchers wrote. The association was not stronger for events before age six or after age six, but the brain region impacted changed based on when the stressful events occurred.

These findings, published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, suggest that early childhood adversity is linked to ADHD symptoms, and give new insight into the areas of the brain affected by stress.


1 Humphreys, K. et al. “Stressful Life Events, ADHD Symptoms, and Brain Structure in Early Adolescence. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, May 2018, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-018-0443-5.

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