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No Surprise: ADHD Increases Social Challenges

Young children with ADHD may have more difficulties relating to their peers, but a new study suggests these challenges decrease as children grow older.

Most parents of children with ADHD worry about how symptoms affect their child’s social life. Now, a study suggests that while symptoms do tend to harm peer relationships early in life, these effects usually diminish as the child ages – and, with them, the cycle of worsening symptoms.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, followed 1,000 children from age four to age eight, using teacher and parent assessments to measure severity of ADHD symptoms and how well each child related to his or her peers.

At age four, children with the most severe symptoms experienced the most peer rejection, the authors found. When the children were reassessed two years later at age six, those with the most severe symptoms had experienced the highest levels of rejection at age four. This suggests a negative cycle of peer rejection and worsening symptoms, or a “self-fulfilling prophecy” for socially inept kids with ADHD. By age eight, however, the children with the most severe ADHD symptoms didn’t experience any more or less peer rejection than those with less severe symptoms. The study did not control for any possible effects of medication.

Of course, parents and teachers aren’t always privy to every aspect of a child’s social life, and they might have misinterpreted how secure the child felt in his or her relationships. But the positive results of this study should give some worried parents hope. In the meantime, researchers suggest, teaching social skills to young children may help them escape this cycle early.

“Early social skills training is essential to the developing brain of a young child, while social skills training for older children solidifies higher-level understanding of social norms,” said Mayra Mendez, a program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California. She was not involved in the study.

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