The relation between difficulties in empathic responding and reading comprehension performance in children with ADHD: comparisons by subtype
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Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are faced with many challenges throughout their school years. Two of the most commonly reported obstacles are related to social and academic functioning. Regarding social skills problems, children with ADHD have demonstrated increased difficulty in responding empathically in social situations due to a reduced ability to take the perspective of others (Barkley, 1997b; Braaten & Rosen, 2000; Westby & Cutler, 1994). Regarding academic challenges, children with ADHD seem to have a particularly problematic time with reading comprehension (Westby, 2002). Comprehension of the psychological causeeffect relations in a narrative depends on the reader’s ability to understand the motivations and intentions of the character by engaging in perspective taking (Westby, 1999). Thus, children with ADHD may experience difficulty empathizing with characters while reading. vii This dissertation study investigated empathy and reading comprehension difficulties in children with ADHD. Subtype differences were examined. Groups were first compared on a self-perception scale measuring the frequency of engagement in empathic behaviors. Results indicated that children with the combined type of ADHD (ADHD-C) rated themselves as engaging in significantly less empathic behaviors than children in the ADHD, Predominately Inattentive group (ADHD-PI). Therefore, subtype differences were found to exist in the self-perception of empathy and interventions need to be tailored accordingly. On a measure of reading comprehension, results indicated significantly poorer performance for the ADHD-PI group than the control group. Thus, this finding is consistent with previous research that children with ADHD-PI have increased difficulty with academics. Empathy while reading was explored. Results indicated that severity of ADHD symptoms rather than group membership contributed significantly to empathy difficulties while reading. Thus, it is important for educators to understand that children with subclinical symptoms of ADHD may have difficulty inferring a character’s emotions and motivations while reading. In addition, empathy was found to mediate the relationship between the diagnosis of ADHD-PI and reading comprehension performance. Therefore, reading comprehension interventions should be designed to teach children with ADHDPI the necessary skills to infer the psychological cause-effect relations in a story, thereby facilitating their comprehension of the narrative. Limitations and future directions were discussed.