Working memory (WM) deficits significantly increase the risk for academic and cognitive dysfunctions in children and adolescents with ADHD, a recent US study has shown.
This study investigated whether educational deficits in children and adolescents with ADHD are driven by WM deficits, or by the effect of ADHD itself. Correlates of WM* and cognitive and educational functioning were measured in a sample of children/adolescents (aged 6–18 years), both with (n=276) and without (n=241) ADHD†, recruited from paediatric and psychiatric sources.
Results indicated that overall, children/adolescents with ADHD had higher rates of WM deficits than those without ADHD (32% vs 14%; p<0.001).
Within-group comparisons showed that WM deficits in both children/adolescents with and without ADHD were associated with lower scores for ‘Arithmetic’ and ‘Freedom from distraction’ cognitive outcomes, although ‘Reading’ was more impaired in children with ADHD and WM deficits.
Furthermore, WM deficits in children with ADHD were associated with significantly higher rates of grade retention and placement in special classes (p<0.01), compared with children with ADHD without WM deficits.
Interpretation of these results should bear in mind that the measure used to assess WM is not considered a direct measure of WM. The researchers concluded that these findings suggest WM deficits on cognitive and academic functioning could be increased in an ADHD background, in comparison to children with WM deficit and without ADHD. Overall, the identification of children with ADHD at high risk for academic and cognitive dysfunction could be enabled through screening for WM deficits.
Read more about working memory impairment in children with ADHD here
*Measured via Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Revised (WISC-R) Vocabulary and Block Design subtests and Freedom from Distractibility (FFD) Factor
†As per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Third Edition, Revised
Fried R, Chan J, Feinberg L, et al. Clinical correlates of working memory deficits in youth with and without ADHD: a controlled study. J Clin Exp Neuropsychol 2016; 38: 487-496.