New research outlines link between chaotic environments and ADHD
The Sector > Quality > In The Field > New research outlines link between chaotic environments and ADHD

New research outlines link between chaotic environments and ADHD

by Freya Lucas

April 13, 2023

A recent study from UNSW Sydney found a correlation between the indoor environment for children and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Although the research centered on the home environment, the learnings will be applicable to early childhood education and care (ECEC) environments also. 


The research is among the first with a large sample size to document the association between ADHD in children and the indoor conditions of their homes, including lighting, acoustic quality, air quality and thermal comfort – collectively known as indoor environmental quality (IEQ).


ADHD is the most frequently diagnosed behavioural and neurodevelopmental disorder in childhood. Children with ADHD experience difficulty with one or more of its core symptoms – inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity.


While researchers aren’t entirely sure what the underlying cause of ADHD is, in most cases, genetics appears to be a factor in the development of the condition. But there are also environmental determinants that might affect the severity of symptoms and outcomes.


The findings are published in the journal Sustainability and echo growing concerns about the impact of poor-quality indoor environments – such as in ECEC services, schools and homes – on the wellbeing of children, particularly those with different cognitive abilities. 


The results also come as a new parliamentary inquiry examining the impact of ADHD on people around Australia has been announced.


“While the findings don’t necessarily mean causality, and there are many confounding factors we didn’t control for, this research suggests the indoor environment has some influence on symptom presentations and severity of ADHD in children,“ explained senior author Professor Valsamma Eapen.


The research found for over one in 10 children with ADHD, housing IEQ factors were associated with the symptoms and diagnosis of ADHD. The poorer the IEQ, the more severe the symptoms were.


“Children with ADHD may be extra sensitive to their everyday surroundings and home environment,“ added lead author Sima Alizadeh. 


“In particular, the severity of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity was impacted by a collective contribution of air quality, acoustic quality, and problems with lighting and thermal comfort within their home.”


The findings support previous research, which has also shown things such as everyday distractions like noise adversely influence children’s psychological wellbeing and may worsen inattention and behavioural issues in children with ADHD.


Creating ADHD-friendly spaces


There are ways to help manage ADHD symptoms, including medication and behavioural therapy and support – and the findings suggest adjusting our indoor spaces may also be key to supporting children with ADHD.


“Having air free from unpleasant smells or dust, sufficient lighting, and suitable acoustic quality free from distracting noise at home may help to manage ADHD symptoms,” Ms Alizadeh said.


“It is also vital to have heaters and fans in the home to provide a comfortable temperature for the children.”


The researchers hope to build on the study’s findings with qualitative assessments testing the IEQ preferences of children with ADHD and their parents.


“Alongside addressing air quality and thermal comfort in the home, it’s important we are looking at how all of the spaces in our lives like outdoors and green space can better support children with ADHD,” Professor Eapen concluded.


Access the study findings in full here

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