Disentangling nature from nurture in examining the interplay between parent-child relationships, ADHD, and early academic attainment

R. Sellers, G. T. Harold, A. F. Smith, J. M. Neiderhiser, D. Reiss, D. Shaw, M. N. Natsuaki, A. Thapar, L. D. Leve

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12 Scopus citations


Abstract Background Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is highly heritable and is associated with lower educational attainment. ADHD is linked to family adversity, including hostile parenting. Questions remain regarding the role of genetic and environmental factors underlying processes through which ADHD symptoms develop and influence academic attainment. Method This study employed a parent-offspring adoption design (N = 345) to examine the interplay between genetic susceptibility to child attention problems (birth mother ADHD symptoms) and adoptive parent (mother and father) hostility on child lower academic outcomes, via child ADHD symptoms. Questionnaires assessed birth mother ADHD symptoms, adoptive parent (mother and father) hostility to child, early child impulsivity/activation, and child ADHD symptoms. The Woodcock-Johnson test was used to examine child reading and math aptitude. Results Building on a previous study (Harold et al., 2013, Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 54(10), 1038-1046), heritable influences were found: birth mother ADHD symptoms predicted child impulsivity/activation. In turn, child impulsivity/activation (4.5 years) evoked maternal and paternal hostility, which was associated with children's ADHD continuity (6 years). Both maternal and paternal hostility (4.5 years) contributed to impairments in math but not reading (7 years), via impacts on ADHD symptoms (6 years). Conclusion Findings highlight the importance of early child behavior dysregulation evoking parent hostility in both mothers and fathers, with maternal and paternal hostility contributing to the continuation of ADHD symptoms and lower levels of later math ability. Early interventions may be important for the promotion of child math skills in those with ADHD symptoms, especially where children have high levels of early behavior dysregulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)645-652
Number of pages8
JournalPsychological medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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