How much impairment is required for ADHD? No evidence of a discrete threshold

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Background: A diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) requires the presence of impairment alongside symptoms above a specific frequency and severity threshold. However, the question of whether that symptom threshold represents anything more than an arbitrary cutoff on a continuum of impairment requires further empirical study. Therefore, we present the first study investigating if the relationship between ADHD symptom severity and functional impairment is nonlinear in a way that suggests a discrete, nonarbitrary symptom level threshold associated with a marked step increase in impairment. Methods: Parent reports on the ADHD-Rating Scale (ADHD-RS-IV), the Weiss Functional Impairment Rating Scale (WFIRS-P), and the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire were collected in a general population sample of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders (N = 1,914–2,044). Results: Piecewise linear regression analyses and nonlinear regression modeling both demonstrated that the relationship between symptom severity (ADHD-RS-IV total score) and impairment (WFIRS-P mean score) was characterized by a gradual linear increase in impairment with higher symptom severity and no apparent step increase or changing rate of increase in impairment at a certain high ADHD-RS-IV total score level. Controlling for socioeconomic status, sex, and co-occurring conduct and emotional symptoms did not alter these results, though comorbid symptoms had a significant effect on impairment. Conclusions: There was no clear evidence for a discrete, nonarbitrary symptom severity threshold with regard to impairment. The results highlight the continued need to consider both symptoms and impairment in the diagnosis of ADHD.

TidsskriftJournal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry
Sider (fra-til)229-237
Antal sider9
StatusUdgivet - feb. 2022

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