Semantic language as a mechanism explaining the association between ADHD symptoms and reading and mathematics underachievement

Monica L. Gremillion, Michelle M. Martel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations

Abstract

ADHD is associated with academic underachievement, but it remains unclear what mechanism accounts for this association. Semantic language is an underexplored mechanism that provides a developmental explanation for this association. The present study will examine whether semantic language deficits explain the association between ADHD and reading and mathematics underachievement, taking into account alternative explanations for associations, including verbal working memory (WM) impairments, as well as specificity of effects to inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive ADHD symptom domains. Participants in this cross-sectional study were 546 children (54 % male) ages six to twelve (M=9.77, SD=1.49). ADHD symptoms were measured via maternal and teacher report during structured interviews and on standardized rating forms. Children completed standardized semantic language, verbal WM, and academic testing. Semantic language fully mediated the ADHD-reading achievement association and partially mediated the ADHD-mathematics achievement association. Verbal WM also partially mediated the ADHD-mathematics association but did not mediate the ADHD-reading achievement association. Results generalized across inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive ADHD symptom domains. Semantic language explained the association between ADHD and reading underachievement and partially explained the association between ADHD and mathematics underachievement. Together, language impairment and WM fully explained the association between ADHD and reading underachievement, in line with developmental models suggesting that language and WM conjointly influence the development of attention and subsequent academic achievement. This work has implication for the development of tailored interventions for academic underachievement in children with ADHD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1339-1349
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Volume40
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements We would like to thank Dr. J.T. Nigg for his valuable comments on the manuscript and for access to his data to address this research question. This research was supported by National Institutes of Health R01-MH 59105 and R01-MH 070004 to J.T. Nigg. We are indebted to the families and staff who made this study possible.

Keywords

  • ADHD
  • Academic achievement
  • Semantic language
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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