Associations Between Adverse Childhood Experiences and ADHD Diagnosis and Severity

Nicole M. Brown, Suzette N. Brown, Rahil D. Briggs, Miguelina Germán, Peter F. Belamarich, Suzette O. Oyeku

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

119 Scopus citations


Objective Although identifying adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) among children with behavioral disorders is an important step in providing targeted therapy and support, little is known about the burden of ACEs among children with attention deficit–hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). We described the prevalence of ACEs in children with and without ADHD, and examined associations between ACE type, ACE score, and ADHD diagnosis and severity. Methods Using the 2011 to 2012 National Survey of Children's Health, we identified children aged 4 to 17 years whose parents indicated presence and severity of ADHD, and their child's exposure to 9 ACEs. Multivariate logistic regression was used to estimate associations between ACEs, ACE score, and parent-reported ADHD and ADHD severity, adjusted for sociodemographic characteristics. Results In our sample (N = 76,227, representing 58,029,495 children), children with ADHD had a higher prevalence of each ACE compared with children without ADHD. Children who experienced socioeconomic hardship (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 1.39; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.21–1.59), divorce (aOR, 1.34; 95% CI, 1.16–1.55), familial mental illness (aOR, 1.55; 95% CI, 1.26–1.90), neighborhood violence (aOR, 1.47; 95% CI, 1.23–1.75), and incarceration (aOR, 1.39; 95% CI, 1.12–1.72) were more likely to have ADHD. A graded relationship was observed between ACE score and ADHD. Children with ACE scores of 2, 3, and ≥4 were significantly more likely to have moderate to severe ADHD. Conclusions Children with ADHD have higher ACE exposure compared with children without ADHD. There was a significant association between ACE score, ADHD, and moderate to severe ADHD. Efforts to improve ADHD assessment and management should consider routinely evaluating for ACEs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)349-355
Number of pages7
JournalAcademic Pediatrics
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2017


  • adverse childhood experiences
  • adverse childhood experiences score
  • attention deficit–hyperactivity disorder

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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