Is it ADHD or a Language Problem?


Knowledge is power, in parenting as in the rest of life.

There are many factors that influence a child's development. The more a parent understands about her child, the better she will be able to communicate effectively and respond to her child's individual needs.

Sorting out if a child does or does not have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), for example, makes a huge difference for a family. This is true regardless of whatever specific treatment decisions might follow later.

A new study confirming the relationship between ADHD and language serves as a perfect example.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, shows that children with ADHD have three times the risk of language delays compared to peers. Difficulties following directions and listening to adults get misattributed to behavior or willfulness, when the underlying issue can simply be that they are not processing information clearly.

In addition, specific ADHD symptoms also undermine communication. ADHD includes distractibility, interrupting, not listening, talkativeness, and impulsiveness – all of which directly impact conversation. In fact, research has shown that a child with ADHD may miss up to twenty percent of what he hears.

Yet, many children with ADHD do not get evaluated for language at all.

Without understanding the relationship between ADHD and language, it's impact on communication continues unabated, and unsupported.

When parents understand the broad impact that their child's ADHD can have on even basic communication, they begin to get a clearer view of the real underlying causes of their everyday challenges.

For example, common terms like “auditory processing” most often represent ADHD or language delays, and not an independent disorder. A perception of oppositional behavior may have nothing to do with defiance, but may stem from language.

Early evaluation for both ADHD and language allows parents and teachers to make common-sense adjustments that help children thrive.

To make communication with ADHD easier …

    • Whenever communication remains difficult, seek a professional evaluation with a speech language therapist, either through your school district or independently.
    • Gently gain your child's full attention before making a request or starting a conversation.
    • Offer ‘extended time' when speaking by intentionally pausing and allowing children to process and respond when they seem to be struggling.
    • Break up spoken language into shorter segments, allowing information to be processed at a manageable pace.
    • Break longer lists of requests or routines into one- or two-part steps.
    • After speaking, consider having children re-state what you have said or what you're asking them to do.
    • Consider any need for ‘communication repair' after a difficult conversation. Clarify what was meant to be said after everyone calms down.
    • Practice ‘mindful communication' by noticing how your own body language, tone of voice, word choice, emotional state, thoughts and assumptions influence any discussion. We often unintentionally shut down or inflame situations when unaware of our own reactive or habitual approaches to communication.


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