Neuropsychological Profiles of Adolescents with ADHD: Effects of Reading Difficulties and Gender
Background: Executive function, particularly behavioral inhibition has been implicated as a core deficit specific to Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) whereas rapid naming has been implicated as a core deficit specific to reading disabilities (RD). Females may be less impaired in executive function although adolescent females with ADHD have yet to be studied. Methods: Neuropsychological profiles of four adolescent groups aged 13-16 with equal female representation were investigated: 35 ADHD, 12 RD, 24 ADHD+RD, and 37 normal controls. A semi-structured interview (K-SADS-PL), the Conners Rating Scales and the Ontario Child Health Study Scales were used to diagnose ADHD. RD was defined as a standard score below 90 on at least one of the following: Reading or Spelling of the WRAT3 or Word Attack or Word Identification of the WRMT-R. The WISC-III, Rapid Automatized Naming, Stroop and Stop tasks were used as measures of cognitive and executive function. Results: The two ADHD groups (ADHD, ADHD+RD) showed deficits in processing speed, naming of objects, poor behavioral inhibition and greater variability in reaction times whereas the two RD groups (RD, RD+ADHD) showed verbal working memory deficits and slower verbal retrieval speed. Only the comorbid group was slower with naming of numbers and colors and had slower reaction times. Regression analyses indicated that incongruent color naming (Stroop) and variability in go reaction time were the best predictors of hyperactive/impulsive ADHD symptoms whereas variability in go reaction time and processing speed were the best predictors of inattentive ADHD symptoms. Speed of letter naming and verbal working memory accounted for the most variability in composite achievement scores. No gender differences were found on any of the cognitive tests. Conclusions: This study challenges the importance of behavioral inhibition deficits in ADHD and that naming deficits are specific to RD. Further investigation into cognitive deficits in these groups is required.