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Keywords:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder;
  • ADHD;
  • pragmatic language;
  • social skills

Background

Impaired social functioning has been well documented in individuals with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Existing treatments for ADHD are effective for managing core symptoms, but have limited effectiveness at improving social skills, suggesting that social deficits in ADHD may not be directly related to core symptoms of the disorder. Language problems are also common in ADHD, with accumulating evidence of pragmatic language difficulties. Pragmatic deficits are associated with social impairment in several neurodevelopmental disorders. This study systematically examined pragmatic language functioning in children with ADHD and whether social impairment in ADHD is mediated by pragmatic deficits.

Method

Sixty-three children (28 ADHD; 35 typically developing), ages 7–11 years, underwent a comprehensive assessment of pragmatic language, including parent ratings, standardized tests, and a narrative task. Parents also rated children's social skills on the Social Skills Improvement System.

Results

Children with ADHD had poorer pragmatic language skills relative to peers across all measures, even after controlling for general language abilities. Furthermore, pragmatic abilities as measured by parent ratings, mediated the relation between ADHD and social skills.

Conclusions

Pragmatic language skills are impaired in many children with ADHD and may partially account for high rates of social impairment. Implications for treatment and possible prevention of social problems in children with ADHD are discussed.