Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is characterized by an inability to concentrate, heightened activity, and hypermotoric behavior, but sensory (e.g., tactile) problems are common. The literature on tactile impairments in ADHD is limited, with most work employing clinical observations or questionnaires. We studied tactile processing in children with ADHD and hypothesized that children with ADHD would show reduced performance in tasks closely linked to inhibition. Sixty-seven children with ADHD and 62 typically developing children (TDC) performed a battery of tasks grouped in domains: simple and choice reaction time; static and dynamic detection threshold (probing feedforward inhibition); amplitude discrimination without adaptation and with dual and single-site adaptation (probing lateral inhibition and adaptation); sequential and simultaneous frequency discrimination (previously linked to GABA); and temporal order judgment with and without a synchronous carrier stimulus. Children with ADHD could discriminate different amplitudes without adaptation, suggesting lateral inhibition is intact, but were negatively affected in all adaptation conditions, whereas TDC were only affected during single-site adaptation. Children with ADHD also showed normal frequency discrimination. Children with ADHD showed slower reaction times and higher detection threshold, likely driven by IQ and inattention, because reaction time and detection thresholds correlated with IQ and subtle motor signs. Children with ADHD showed a pattern of altered tactile processing on specific tasks, suggesting that higher cognitive function and cortical mechanisms related to adaptation are affected in ADHD, but no clear conclusion can be drawn toward impaired inhibition. NEW & NOTEWORTHY This manuscript presents the first tactile psychophysical study testing different aspects of tactile processing in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), using large cohort sizes of 67 children with ADHD and 65 Typically Developing Children. This study demonstrates impaired tactile processing in children with ADHD, on some, but not all tasks (showing this is not just due to attention), related to impaired cortical mechanisms. Furthermore, both IQ and soft motor skill abnormalities (common in ADHD) are correlated with tactile abnormalities.
- Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
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