Do you have ADHD or a language impairment?

Do you have ADHD or a language impairment?

Read more: Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry

The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry published a study that examined language impairments (LI) and ADHD. They found an association, but perhaps not what you’d expect.

The research indicates that testing for LI is very important when testing for ADHD.

Language impairment may be defined as significant difficulties affecting listening comprehension, oral expression, social interaction, reading, writing, or spelling. Its very definition reads like a checklist for ADHD symptoms.

The researchers found that LI are commonly observed among children referred for psychiatric services — especially ADHD. This would seem to makes sense; many children with ADHD have the same symptoms as LI:

1. They have poor social interactions manifesting in an inability to make friends.
2. They have poor listening comprehension manifesting when they cannot take multiple step instructions (e.g. Go to your bedroom, put your pajamas on, brush your teeth, get in bed).
3. They have difficulty expressing themselves orally resulting in frustration and angry outbursts.
4. They often have difficulty with reading, writing, and spelling.

The researchers concluded that children with LI were at the most disadvantage regardless of the nature of the psychiatric diagnosis.

Furthermore, the researchers noted that “…caution must be exercised in attributing to children with ADHD what might be a reflection of problems for children with language impairment generally. As most therapies are verbally based it is notable that language competence is rarely evaluated systematically before such therapies are undertaken.”

In another study performed in Norway, Speech Therapist Wenche Andersen Helland noted, “There is often a one-sided focus on the behavior of kids with ADHD. But these children may have communication problems as they grow older, particularly in a school situation, if their language skills are not given enough attention. If we don’t work hard enough to strengthen language development in children with ADHD, we increase the risk that they
won’t learn what they should in school. They’ll also be more likely to fall short in social interactions with their peers. We need to intervene early to prevent a downward spiral.”

In other words, check for LI when checking for ADHD. This cannot be accomplished in the typical 20 minute session with a pediatrician. A speech language pathologist can determine a language impairment. The bottom line is that it is wise to get a full evaluation from a specialist that includes a full physical, vision test, language impairment test, and others.