The communicative competency of boys with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder




Rennie, Terry James

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Language is one of the features that define us as human beings. We use language to communicate with others. Children learn and develop competencies in different aspects of language that enable them to communicate in various social situations. In short, they develop communicative competency. Learning in the classroom requires children to meet an accepted set of language and communicative competency standards described in the curriculum. Those children who do not meet expectations for language and communication are at a serious disadvantage in school. One group of children who experience difficulties in the classroom are those diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The research literature on ADHD tends to focus on children's problems with attention span, self-regulation and impulse control. There is, however, growing recognition in the literature that language and communication are implicated in ADHD. While literature has examined important aspects of language in relation to ADHD, it has not looked at critical aspects of language with respect to children's ability to communicate effectively. The major objectives of this study were to examine the language of children diagnosed with ADHD to learn more about how they communicate by comparing their communicative competency with that of a group of non-ADHD children. This study examined the communicative competency of a sample of 10 boys aged 6 to 9 years (5 boys with ADHD and 5 boys without ADHD) using a purposive, typical case sampling procedure. The boys were video-taped through a one-way mirror engaging the researcher in conversations, building a Lego model, providing the researcher with instructions regarding the Lego model they had built, and playing with the model and the researcher. Overall, participants in both groups were similar with respect to some components of grammatical competency: language production, phonology, and certain aspects of morphology and syntax. Substantial differences were found in the semantic components of grammatical competency, sociolinguistic and discourse competency. The ADHD participants were strongly connected to the immediate study context as indicated by their language and communication. They had difficulty making connections or references beyond the “here-and-now” and using complex and abstract concepts. The non-ADHD participants did not demonstrate such difficulties. The ADHD participants also demonstrated more dependence on the researcher to maintain the conversations. This finding suggests that the ADHD participants' reliance on the immediate sociocultural context may reflect problems with cognitive functioning for abstract relations. The results of this study indicated that cognitive functioning in relation to language was different for the ADHD participants than for the non-ADHD participants. The finding that the ADHD participants communicated differently than did the non-ADHD participants has important implications for learning in the classroom. Implications for understanding ADHD and directions for future research are also discussed.



Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Communicative competency, Communication and the arts