By Maureen Salamon
After-school activities might be just what the doctor ordered for kids with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), researchers suggest.
After analyzing records on more than 4,000 children with ADHD, the investigators found that nearly 72 percent of them took part in one or more after-school activities. And if they did, they missed fewer days of school and had less severe symptoms of the disorder.
"Anecdotally, we've heard that having a diagnosis of ADHD can sometimes be a deterrent for participating in after-school activity programs," explained study co-author Dr. Nicole Brown, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York City. "So, I was surprised to see that high prevalence of participation" among children with ADHD. I thought it would be lower, and it's encouraging that it's that high."
A syndrome affecting more than 11 million Americans, ADHD is marked by problems with restlessness, paying attention and controlling impulses, according to the Attention Deficit Disorder Association. The condition is typically diagnosed among children in grade school, and medications and/or behavioral therapy are popular treatment options.
Prior research found that children with ADHD are at higher risk for missing school more often, and disruptive school behaviors. The new research set out to determine not only how many kids with ADHD take part in after-school activities, but also the link between doing so and the number of missed school days and calls home from school.
Brown and her colleagues identified 4,185 children aged 5 to 17 with ADHD. Their parents had also reported the severity of their child's condition; the number of school days missed in the prior 12 months due to illness or injury; and the number of calls home from school for a problem in the prior year.
The analysis showed that children with ADHD who participated in after-school activities had nearly 40 percent lower odds of parents reporting them having a moderate or severe case. Additionally, after-school activity participation was also associated with 60 percent lower odds of missing seven or more school days in a year. But the study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
No significant associations were found between taking part in after-school activities and receiving calls home from school.
Study co-author Dr. Yonit Lax, a pediatrician at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City, said her team has several ideas why the results indicated kids with ADHD benefit from after-school activities. Prior research has established that increased physical activity and less screen time among these children are both linked to less severe cases, she said.
"Looking at those two factors, it really reinforces what we're thinking — that those placed in a more structured environment, outside screen time, have lower odds of moderate or severe ADHD," Lax said.
Anxiety and ADHD can both cause difficulties with concentration, which many people have experienced during the pandemic. Distinguishing the diagnoses of anxiety and ADHD involves timing of onset, the theme of the person's worries, and psychological testing. Anxiety is more common than adult ADHD.
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