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Complications of ADHD

Difficulty in School

Children with ADHD have difficulty paying attention in the classroom and remembering assignments, which can lead to poor academic performance. A child who suffers from undiagnosed ADHD may be unfairly considered "stupid" or "impossible to teach"—a judgment that could lead to further academic failure.

Unfortunately, high school dropout rates are about twice as high for children with ADHD than for those without (Breslau, 2011). Children with ADHD may also have trouble interacting with adults, which can exacerbate problems in the classroom. Children with ADHD are more likely than others to develop oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), a pattern of hostile and insolent behavior directed toward authority figures.

Although ADHD doesn’t cause learning disabilities, they are more common in children with ADHD than in those without. School-aged children with ADHD may have a harder time with reading, spelling, writing, or math (Mayes, 2000). Test taking is especially problematic; luckily, many schools allow children with ADHD extra time on tests, especially state and national standardized tests.

It’s also important to remember that gifted and talented students have higher rates of ADHD than other children. If your child has ADHD, it is essential that you work with their teacher, school counselor, or other educational specialist to address any special requirements.

Difficulty in Social Situations

Some children with ADHD have trouble interacting with their peers. Because these children may have difficulty taking turns, playing with others can become more upsetting than rewarding. Although ADHD does not cause anxiety or depression, these conditions are more common in children with ADHD than in others (August, 1996). Anxiety is especially common, and it can both cause and exacerbate worry and nervousness about being around, working with, and playing with others. 

Another rare, but potentially serious, condition that can coexist with ADHD is conduct disorder. A child with conduct disorder may repeatedly lie, steal, act cruelly or violently towards others and animals, or destroy property. Children with conduct disorder have trouble integrating socially and are at a significantly higher risk for injury, depression, substance abuse, and incarceration than their peers (CDC, 2011).

Other Complications and Comorbidities

Although ADHD does not cause these conditions, children with ADHD are more likely than others to have (NIMH, 2009):

  • bipolar disorder: a mental condition marked by severe mood swings and shifts in energy levels
  • borderline personality disorder: an emotional disorder marked by mood swings, emotional instability, distorted self-image, and trouble interacting
  • Tourette syndrome: a neurological condition characterized by repetitive, involuntary verbal and motor tics
  • obsessive compulsive disorder: an anxiety disorder marked by impulsive, repetitive thoughts and actions, such as turning lights on and off in a particular sequence
  • depression: a mental condition characterized by chronic feelings of sadness and disinterest
  • anxiety disorders: conditions that cause chronic feelings of worry, nervousness, or fear, sometimes marked by phobias or episodes of panic 

Content licensed from:

Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Medically reviewed on: Nov 15, 2012: George Krucik, MD, MBA

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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