ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is a neurodevelopmental disorder which effects approximately 5% of the population. Children with ADHD will often have difficulties with sustained attention and/or inhibiting their impulses and motor control. This means that they can often appear hyperactive, act without thinking and look like they aren’t paying attention.
On the surface it may seem strange that a speech pathologist has a role with a child with ADHD. However, evidence shows us that up to 82% of children with ADHD will have difficulties in at least one area of communication. And communication is what speech pathologists do!
Often people think of speech pathologists as professionals who work with speech disorders and stuttering, but we work with such a wide and varied range of communication difficulties, including speech sound difficulties, stuttering, language difficulties and disorders, speech difficulties, social communication difficulties, literacy difficulties, swallowing difficulties and even voice disorders.
Children with ADHD are at significantly higher risk when it comes to a wide range of communication difficulties, and these difficulties can have an impact on their educational, social and even vocational outcomes. At times, due to the symptoms of ADHD, it can be hard to see that these children might have co-occurring communication difficulties, but speech pathologists can help identify these difficulties and provide services to support you and your child.
Read on to discover the types of communication difficulties a child with ADHD may experience, the impact of these difficulties and how a speech can help.
What types of communication difficulties are more likely to be seen in children with ADHD?
Evidence tells us that children with ADHD are more likely to have the following communication disorders, compared to children of their age without ADHD:
Social Communication Difficulties
Social communication skills are how we use our language skills in social situations. This includes non-verbal communication, such as respecting personal space and making eye contact when you are speaking to someone and following the ‘rules’ of conversation, such as not interrupting or talking over the top of people, staying on the same topic, or taking turns in conversations.
Research tells us that children with ADHD have poorer pragmatic skills than children of their age without ADHD. Difficulties specifically with turn taking, eye contact in conversation, introducing or expanding on topics for discussion, fixing conversations when they breakdown and even story telling in a cohesive manner have been found in between 52-82% of children with ADHD.
Language difficulties can effect oral and written language in both, understanding (such as following directions) and/or expression (such as vocabulary, making up sentences and stories).
Research tells us that children with ADHD are at least three times more likely to have language difficulties than children without ADHD.
Dysfluency / Stuttering
Children with ADHD are more likely to be dysfluent when they are talking than children without ADHD. Children with ADHD often repeat words, phrases and sentences more often and have more pauses when they are talking than children without ADHD.
Specific Learning Disorders
Specific Learning Disorders are characterised by a persistent difficulty in at least one of three major areas of reading, written expression and/or maths.
Children with ADHD are at significantly higher risk of having a specific learning disorder than children without ADHD. A study conducted in 2015 found that 23% of boys and 28% of girls with ADHD have numeracy, reading, spelling and writing scores below the expected benchmark in year three, compared to 11% of children without ADHD.
Children with ADHD are more likely to develop vocal nodules than children without ADHD. Vocal nodules are callous-like growth that form on the vocal folds from repetitive abuse and/or misuse of the voice. This can be from yelling, talking excessively, crying, cheering and even making sound effects with your voice. These behaviours can lead to children having a hoarse sounding voice or even losing their voice. Voice disorders are extremely common in children with ADHD (combined and hyperactive/impulsive presentations)
The impact of communication disorders and ADHD
Children and adolescents with these communication difficulties are at higher risk of poor academic progress, bullying and behavioural issues. Children with ADHD, particularly boys, often have fewer friendships and experience social difficulties, when compared to children without ADHD. These social and academic challenges can impact their latter years with evidence suggesting they are at higher risk of mental health issues, and may find it difficult to achieve gainful employment.
As a parent, this can be quite confronting. With children spending most of their time at school or in play situations, we want them to have the skills to navigate social challenges, build meaningful relationships and achieve academic success (whatever that may look like for your own child). Appropriate early speech-language pathology services for children may provide them with the skills and support that can lessen the impact of these difficulties.
So how can a speech pathologist help?
At a Growing Understanding Speech Pathology we can:
- Work together with your family to investigate, diagnose and manage communication difficulties.
- Collaboratively develop an evidence-based plan to support your child and family in achieving communication goals
- Provide therapy to facilitate communication skills and/or scaffold the environment to allow the child to use the skills they have.
- Train parents and carers or teachers in a range of strategies to support your child with ADHD at home and in the classroom setting.
If you feel that your child would benefit from an assessment or therapy to support their communication skills, please talk to our team today.