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ADD/ADHD May Signify Physical Abuse

Mar 07, 2014 08:42 AM EST

Thirty percent of adults with Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD) report that they were physically abused before they turned 18. This compares to seven percent of those without ADD/ADHD who were physically abused before the age of 18.

Investigators examined a representative sample of 13,054 adults aged 18 and older in the 2005 Canadian Community Health Survey included 1,020 respondents who reported childhood physical abuse and 64 respondents who reported that they had been diagnosed by a health professional with either ADHD or ADD.

"This strong association between abuse and ADD/ADHD was not explained by differences in demographic characteristics or other early adversities experienced by those who had been abused," said lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson of University of Toronto's school of social work. Even after adjusting for several potential mediating factors, including age, race, gender, parental divorce, parental addictions, and long-term parental unemployment, those who reported being physically abused before age 18 had seven times greater odds of having ADD/ADHD.

The results were in a study published in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, and Trauma.

The data however does not alert scientists as to the direction of the association. It is plausible that the behaviors of children with ADD/ADHD increase parental stress and in turn the likelihood of abuse. "Alternatively, some new literature suggests early childhood abuse may result in and/or exacerbate the risk of ADD/ADHD," said co-author Rukshan Mehta, a graduate of the University of Toronto's Master of Social Work program.

Approximately 5 percent  to 10 percent of school-aged children suffer from ADD/ADHD. According to co-author Angela Valeo from Ryerson University, "This study underlines the importance of ADD/ADHD as a marker of abuse. With 30 percent of adults with ADD/ADHD reporting childhood abuse, it is important that health professionals working with children with these disorders screen them for physical abuse."

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