Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most common behavioral and neurodevelopmental disorder in childhood. Children with ADHD have difficulty with one or more of its core symptoms – inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.

While researchers aren’t completely sure of the underlying cause of ADHD, in most cases, genetics appears to be a factor in the development of the condition. But there are also environmental determinants that may influence symptom severity and outcome.

A recent study from the University of New South Wales in Sydney found that ADHD in children is associated with indoor environmental quality (IEQ) in homes. This research is among the first with a large sample size to document the relationship between ADHD in children and the indoor conditions of their homes, including lighting, acoustic quality, air quality, and thermal comfort.

The results have been published in the journal sustainability It echoes growing concerns about the impact of poor-quality indoor environments – such as schools and homes – on the well-being of children, especially those with different cognitive abilities. The findings also come as a new parliamentary inquiry examining the impact of ADHD on people across Australia was announced.

“While the findings do not necessarily imply causation, and there are many confounding factors that we did not control for, this research suggests that the internal environment has some influence on symptom presentations and severity of ADHD in children,” says Professor Valsama Eben, MD. A child psychologist and senior author of the study from the University of New South Wales Medicine and Health.

For the study, the researchers examined the relationship between IEQ and ADHD in children. They surveyed 435 parents of children aged 5-17 with ADHD in Australia using the home version of the ADHD Rating Scale for Children and Adolescents and the Self-Reporting Residential Environment Quality Assessment Tool. A control group of children who did not have ADHD was included in the study for comparison.

Read more: Poor air quality in classrooms harms children’s well-being and learning

The research found that for more than 1 in 10 children with ADHD, IEQ factors were associated with ADHD symptoms and diagnoses. The poorer the IEQ, the more severe the symptoms.

“Children with ADHD may be more sensitive to their daily surroundings and home environment,” says Sima Alizadeh, lead author of the study and PhD candidate from the UNSW School of Art, Design and Architecture. “In particular, the severity of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity was affected by the collective contribution of air quality, acoustic quality, lighting problems, and thermal comfort within their homes.”

The findings support previous research, which has also shown that everyday distractions like noise negatively affect children’s psychological well-being and may exacerbate inattention and behavior issues in children with ADHD.

Create ADHD friendly spaces

There are ways to help manage ADHD symptoms, including behavioral therapy and support — and the findings suggest that modifying our inner spaces may also be key to supporting children with ADHD.

“Having air free of unpleasant odors or dust, adequate lighting, and appropriate audio quality free of distracting noises in the home may help manage ADHD symptoms,” says Ms. Alizadeh. “It is also necessary to have heaters and fans in the home to provide a comfortable temperature for children.”

Children spend most of their time at home and indoors. However, most homes are designed to meet the needs of a healthy adult user. Researchers say building regulations need to be improved to accommodate more diverse needs.

“It is necessary to add some policy guidelines for future housing to ensure that indoor environmental quality factors that we can control such as ventilation and air quality are ADHD-friendly,” says Ms. Alizadeh. “Furthermore, maintaining the quality of the indoor environment is not only beneficial for children with ADHD, but also the general well-being and health of the broader population.”

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

“Besides addressing air quality and thermal comfort in the home, it is important to look at how all the spaces in our lives such as the outdoors and green spaces can better support children with ADHD,” says Professor Eben.

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