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Infant Attention Associated With ADHD Symptoms in Early Childhood

August 10, 2020

Attentional behaviors observed in babies at 12 months of age appear to predict behaviors related to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at 4.5 years of age, according to a study published online in the Journal of Attention Disorders.

“Notably, we found consistent significant associations between 12-month nonsocial sensory attention and 4.5-year ADHD symptoms and executive function behaviors,” researchers wrote. “Unsurprisingly, we also found strong significant associations between the ADHD and executive function measures at 4.5 years. Though this is partly attributable to the mode of assessment (parent-report), it is also consistent with the wealth of previous research describing links between ADHD and deficits in executive function.” 

Nonsocial sensory attention refers to how a child attends to and/or acts on objects, sensory features of objects, or his/her own body. 

Childhood Neurocognitive Markers May Help Predict Late-Onset ADHD 

For the study, 229 parents filled out the First Year Inventory—a measure designed to identify infants at risk for an eventual diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder—when their children were 12 months years of age. Three and a half years later, when the children were preschool age, parents reported on ADHD symptomatology and executive function abilities.

Nonsocial sensory attention at 12 months of age was significantly associated with ADHD symptom severity at 4.5 years, the study found. Meanwhile, all three attention variables on the First Year Inventory— responding to social attention, initiating social attention, and nonsocial sensory attention—were significantly linked with executive function at 4.5 years. 

“The use of a dimensional measure of emergent ADHD provides valuable insight into the full range of symptomatology,” researchers wrote. “In the context of a very small literature examining variables in infancy that are related to later ADHD and associated behaviors, this study contributes unique findings regarding the longitudinal relationship between infant attention and ADHD symptoms in early childhood.”

—Jolynn Tumolo


Stephens RL, Elsayed HE, Reznick JS, Crais ER, Watson LR. Infant attentional behaviors are associated with ADHD symptomatology and executive function in early childhood. Journal of Attention Disorders. 2020 August 4;[Epub ahead of print].

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