ADHD Kids May Make for Bigger Bullies
> 1/31/2008 12:37:01 PM

Bullying is a cyclical phenomenon: the child who suffers the wrath of his peers is more likely to take out his own violent urges on smaller or less capable classmates. Call it a very twisted sort of revenge. But new research implies that bullies and their victims are even more closely intertwined than we'd been led to believe. Researchers have discovered that the kids who can't sit still, pay attention, or conform to basic social standards are far more likely to both attract abuse and dish it out.

So do bullies, victims and ADHD form an unholy co-dependent triad? Researchers in Stockholm followed more than 500 fourth-graders for one year. After interviewing parents and teachers, referring problem kids to neurologists for diagnoses and asking the children themselves about bullies, researchers found that those with ADHD symptoms and positive diagnoses were more than 4 times as likely to become bullies and a shocking 10 times as likely to suffer from the same.

Does the abuse encourage ADHD? It's a dubious proposition, but a child suffering from particularly brutal abuse at the hands of a bully could very conceivably have a harder time concentrating in class. And, in turn, bully-ish behavior may be the most obvious incarnation of the impulsivity and lack of self-control so common to ADHD patients. The fact that affected students often have trouble establishing social networks, feel isolated at school and end up forming their own smaller cliques more prone to misbehavior and substance abuse also supports the "ADHD makes bullies" theory. Some of the bitterness accumulated by these future tormentors stems from the fact that other students most likely mocked their academic and behavioral difficulties in the classroom. This study thankfully counters the stereotype of a bully as a single-minded aggressor motivated only by his (or her) own desire to inflict pain. The kids who punch, trip and tease in the halls and on the playground may very well suffer far worse at home. Previous research has also noted that autistic children are more likely to bully their peers, but only if their condition also includes ADHD symptoms.

What can concerned parents do? At what age is parental intervention a good idea? And do the parents of every ADHD child need to worry that their son or daughter will be pushing, punching and taunting other kids on the playground? First, parents should consider the fact that a majority of students will encounter, at the very least, light bullying or uninvited insults from fellow students at some point in their long journey through the school system. By no means is every ADHD child guaranteed to give or receive such abuse. But if children receive early ADHD diagnoses, they warrant increased attention—behavioral abnormalities could compromise their school experiences as well as those of their classmates.

Unfortunately, the concluding recommendations of this and other studies are vague and familar: develop greater lines of communication between parents, teachers, and school officials to determine the path most beneficial to affected kids; develop a careful framework to better organize their daily lives and allow for less unstructured time that could potentially be used in, let's say, unconstructive ways; combine family therapy and medication to remedy the bullies' behavioral problems. Ritalin, sadly, cannot counter aggression (some would argue that its stated benefits are questionable at best). And a good punch in the nose is likely to inspire only the same in response. We can't protect our children from every minor slight they might suffer at the hands of their peers. So the hallways just aren't safe nowadays...but then they never really were.

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