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The Impact of Experience on Children’s Understanding of ADHD

McMenamy, Jannette M. PhD*; Perrin, Ellen C. MD

Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: December 2008 - Volume 29 - Issue 6 - p 483-492
doi: 10.1097/DBP.0b013e318190317c
Original Article

Objective: This study examined how 7 to 8-year-old and 11 to 12-year-old children with and without attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) interpreted the causes and treatment of ADHD and colds. We also examined the complexity of children’s explanations of medications for ADHD and colds.

Methods: A semi-structured interview was used to assess children’s understanding of ADHD and colds. Interviews were coded separately for each of 3 categories: principles (e.g., biological or psychological) used to explain cause and treatment; ideas about the intentionality of symptoms; and articulation of mechanisms underlying the action of medications.

Results: Younger children without ADHD demonstrated a belief that children with ADHD have control over and choose to exhibit their symptoms. Younger children with ADHD used nonintentional psychology (e.g., learning or early childhood experiences) or biological principles in their responses whereas older children with ADHD combined both of these categories in their accounts of ADHD. Older children without ADHD favored purely biological explanations of ADHD. Both age and experience were related to the complexity of children’s responses to questions about the action of medications for ADHD and colds.

Discussion: Findings highlight the need for educational interventions to rework the notion that children with ADHD intentionally display their symptoms. Educational interventions should clearly be tailored to children’s developmental level as well as their experience with a condition.

From the *Department of Behavioral Sciences, Fitchburg State College, Fitchburg, MA; and †Department of Pediatrics, Division of Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics, The Floating Hospital for Children, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, MA.

Received April 2008; accepted September 2008.

Address for reprints: Jannette McMenamy, Ph.D., Department of Behavioral Sciences, Fitchburg State College, 160 Pearl Street, Fitchburg, MA 01420; e-mail:

© 2008 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.