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Inattentiveness in Childhood Linked to Poor Grades a Decade Later

Inattentive symptoms can hold back even the brightest children, regardless of whether or not they’ve been diagnosed with ADHD.




August 31, 2017

Children who struggle with inattention — even if they don’t have or have never been formally diagnosed with ADHD — may fare worse academically than their more attentive peers, a new study finds. What’s more, these effects can persist for at least 10 years, even for children with high IQs.

The study focused on two groups of children, one from Bergen, Norway, and another from Berkeley, California. The 295 subjects were primarily female and between the ages of six and 12 when the study began; many, but not all, had been diagnosed with ADHD. The study’s authors assessed each child’s IQ and asked parents to rate their child’s levels of attentiveness. Ten years later, the children were re-assessed and questioned about their grades and overall academic performance over the previous decade.

Unsurprisingly, the children with higher IQs tended to do better academically. Also unsurprising was the link between an ADHD diagnosis and increased academic challenges, the researchers said, as ADHD’s relationship with school-related setbacks has been long established.

But inattention played a larger role in grades than hypothesized, particularly for the children without ADHD diagnoses. While children with ADHD showed higher levels of inattention overall, kids who struggled to pay attention in class — for any reason — fared significantly worse academically than children who were able to maintain focus, even if they had higher IQs.

It may seem obvious that difficulties paying attention would adversely affect a child’s performance in school, the researchers said. But parents and teachers may dismiss a child’s inattentiveness as “not trying,” particularly if the child has a high IQ or doesn’t qualify for a formal ADHD diagnosis. This perception can have lasting effects on a child’s self-esteem and long-term life success.

“Parents of primary school children showing signs of inattention should ask for help for the child,” said Astri J. Lundervold, of the University of Bergen. “A high number of children are challenged by problems related to inattention. A cluster of these problems is defined as hallmark symptoms of ADHD, but inattentiveness is not restricted to children with a specific diagnosis.”

“Remedial strategies and training programs for these children should be available at school,” Lundervold went on to say. “Parents and teachers could also benefit from training, to help address the needs of inattentive children.”

The study was published August 25 in Frontiers in Psychology.

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