Kids with ADHD misjudge traffic dangers, raising car injury risk

Posted Aug. 01, 2011, at 5:14 p.m.

Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may have an increased chance of being hit by a car while crossing the street because of errors in judgment rather than inability to follow directions, a study suggests.

While children seemed to follow proper safety directions, such as looking both ways before crossing, they didn’t correctly judge traffic dangers, such as the distance of an approaching vehicle or the time it would take them to cross the street, according to a study in the journal Pediatrics.

The research was designed to understand why children with ADHD have higher pedestrian injury rates than peers without the disorder. The findings suggest kids may have trouble processing information, the authors said. Future studies should take a closer look at brain areas driving “executive function,” a term psychologists use to describe mental attention that involves planning, reasoning and flexibility in thinking, said Despina Stavrinos, the study’s lead author.

“Proper executive functioning would entail recognizing the speed of the oncoming vehicle, the interval between vehicles and the speed of the walker as they cross the street,” Stavrinos, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Injury Control Research Center, said in a statement. “Children with ADHD seem to be behind their typically developing peers in these sorts of computing skills.”

ADHD affects 3 percent to 5 percent of U.S. children, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Symptoms include fidgeting, excessive talking and abandoning chores and homework. The condition is usually diagnosed in childhood and can continue as an adult.

Researchers in the study looked at 78 children ages 7 to 10 years old. Half had ADHD. The children completed 10 simulated street crossings in a laboratory setting that houses a virtual street environment.

They found that the children with ADHD chose smaller gaps between traffic to cross in and had “significantly less time to spare” when reaching the end of the crosswalk until the next vehicle passed.

Stavrinos said parents of children with ADHD need to explain the crossing process to their children beyond looking left and right. About 12 percent of all pedestrian deaths occur in children ages 7 to 10 years old, the study authors wrote.

“Children with ADHD do have problems in using the information they gather,” said James Perrin, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatric’s ADHD planning team and a professor of pediatrics at Harvard University, in a July 22 telephone interview. “This provides parents of children with ADHD specific areas to work on.”

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