Researchers studied children with and without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They found that inattentiveness was linked to worse academic performance up to 10 years later, regardless of ADHD, even when they accounted for the children’s intellectual ability.
Academic achievement matters
Although grades aren’t everything, academic achievement is essential for later career success and financial stability. Helping children to maximize their academic potential and overcome obstacles to academic success is important.
One factor in academic performance is intellectual ability, and unsurprisingly, numerous studies have found that higher intellectual ability is linked with higher academic performance.
Attentiveness linked to academic performance
Another factor that can affect academic performance is attentiveness. Aside from making it difficult to focus in school and on homework, inattentiveness can be associated with other problems, such as mood disorders and difficulties interacting with other children. Helping children to overcome inattentiveness could pay dividends in later life.
Astri Lundervold, a researcher at the University of Bergen, is interested in the short- and long-term consequences of inattention in childhood. “A high number of children are challenged by problems related to inattention. A cluster of these problems is defined as hallmark symptoms of ADHD, but inattentiveness is not restricted to children with a specific diagnosis,” explains Lundervold. Are inattention problems something parents and teachers should address in all children?
Academic performance ten years later
This question inspired Lundervold to investigate the link between inattentiveness and academic performance in a sample mainly containing healthy children in Bergen, Norway. She collaborated with Stephen Hinshaw and Jocelyn Meza in America to make the sample more culturally diverse and inclusive of a larger spectrum of mental health disorders. Together, they expanded the study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, to include a sample of girls from another long-term study in Berkeley, California, where a large subgroup had been diagnosed with ADHD.
The children were aged from 6 – 12 when the researchers recruited them and began the study. They assessed the children’s IQ and asked their parents to rate their inattentiveness. Finally, ten years later, the researchers followed up with the children to see their performance in school.
Results of the study
Unsurprisingly, children with higher IQ scores tended to perform better academically. Also, as expected, the children with ADHD showed higher inattentiveness than those without and performed worse in school.
However, the negative effects of inattention on academic performance were not restricted to children with ADHD. “We found a surprisingly similar effect of early inattention on high school academic achievement across the two samples, an effect that remained even when we adjusted for intellectual ability,” explains Lundervold.
The results highlight the long-term effects that childhood inattention can have on academic performance. These findings suggest that inattention could have a significant adverse impact on the academic performance of a variety of children, potentially including those with high intellectual ability and no ADHD. So, how can parents help their children to achieve their academic potential, regardless of their IQ or mental health?
“Parents of primary school children showing signs of inattention should ask for help for the child. Remedial strategies and training programs for these children should be available at school and not just for children with a specific diagnosis,” says Lundervold. “Parents and teachers could also benefit from training to help address the needs of inattentive children.”