Women with ADHD Report Higher Rates of Childhood Abuse

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Women with ADHD are significantly more likely to report a history of sexual and physical abuse than their peers without the disorder, according to a study from researchers at the University of Toronto. The findings also showed a similar, though less pronounced, increase.

01690In the report published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect, the researchers say 34 percent of women with ADHD reported sexual abuse before the age of 18. Comparatively, 14 percent of women without the condition reported childhood sexual abuse. Women with ADHD also reported more than twice the rate of childhood sexual abuse compared to women without the disorder (44% vs 21%).

“These findings suggest there is a silent epidemic of abuse among people and particularly women with ADHD,” says co-author Esme Fuller-Thomson, professor and Sandra Rotman Endowed Chair at U of T’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and the Faculty of Medicine.

The team also found an increased percentage of men with ADHD reported childhood sexual abuse (11 percent vs six percent) and physical abuse (41 percent vs. 31 percent).

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from a nationally representative sample of 12,877 women and 10,496 men from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental Health.

While the findings are notable, it is important to note the researchers were not able to establish a directional relationship. “It may be that early maltreatment affects neurobiological development,” says Fuller-Thomson. “It is also possible that children with ADHD are more vulnerable to abuse.”

“The questions in the survey did not identify who was abusing the children, it could have been a family member or a non-related adult” said study co-author, Danielle Lewis, a graduate student in U of T’s Masters of Social Work program. “No matter who is the perpetrator, it is very important that health professionals working with children with ADHD screen them for sexual and physical abuse.”

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