Children with ADHD face a plethora of problems — two of them being poor academic grades and difficulties with language. Although the two are often presented together, there was previously little evidence to show that they were directly linked. A new study now suggests that poor school performance is not a symptom of ADHD, but rather directly caused by the language problems often associated with the condition. The study’s researchers hope the results will help get children with ADHD the proper speech and language aid they need.

The study was published online Monday and will appear in the May print issue of Pediatrics. For years, it has been common knowledge that children with ADHD perform worse in school and have poor social and language skills. This study, however, was designed to determine how these language problems, including difficulties in both speech and comprehension, affected the academic and social skills in ADHD children. Researchers measured the prevalence of language problems in both children with ADHD and those without, and recorded how these difficulties affected their social and academic skills. The study included data from 179 children with ADHD and 212 control participants. All of the participants were aged 6 to 8 and came from 43 different schools in Melbourne, Australia, according to the press release.

Results showed that children with ADHD were nearly three times as likely to have language problems compared to those without ADHD. The results were the same even after taking many factors into account, such as cultural differences and autism. According to the study, 40 percent of children in the ADHD group had language problems, compared to only 17 percent of the controls. Still even with these statistics, researchers found that only 42 percent of children with ADHD and language problems had been previously assessed by a speech language pathologist, and of these, only 57 percent were currently seeing a speech pathologist.

“Given the strong association between language and academic underachievement found in this study if children with ADHD are falling significantly behind academically, they should be referred for a language assessment,” the study authors explained in the press release. Although language problems are common in children with ADHD, they're associated with poorer academic functioning independent of the condition. However, thanks to this study there is evidence to show that language problems are associated with not only poorer academic scores, but also poorer social functioning for children with ADHD.

The researchers emphasize that the connections between ADHD and language problems are too complex to be explained simply through this study. “Future research should examine whether language-based interventions are effective in improving academic functioning for this vulnerable group of children,” the authors concluded.

Source: Sciberras E, Mueller KL, Efron D. Language Problems in Children With ADHD: A Community –Based Study. Pediatrics. 2014.