ADHD and the Effects of COVID-19 on Health and Education

We crossed the two-year mark for the COVID-19 pandemic this March. Most US states have lifted all or most pandemic precautions. Following the surge from the omicron variant, hospitals and healthcare centers are slowly seeing a decrease in inpatient care for the virus.

ADHD researchers are beginning to have enough information to understand how the global crisis has affected the ADHD community. They have investigated and continue to study susceptibility to the COVID-19 virus and the health outcomes following infection for children and adult with ADHD. COVID-19 appears to have several ongoing effects on a person’s body after recovery from the illness, even when the virus is no longer present in their bodies. It is unknown at this time what the long-term impacts of these effects mean for someone who has had the virus, and how they may affect ADHD symptoms later.

Educational needs are a significant area of concern for children with ADHD during the pandemic. To limit virus spread and to protect the health of students and educators, many schools closed their campuses and had students learning from home. Other school districts developed hybrid models, with some students in the classroom and others learning remotely. For students who have ADHD, especially those with academic accommodations, it was an uneven experience. Some students found the change in learning environments beneficial, while others started to lose educational ground and support.

ADHD and COVID-19 infection: understanding health risks

Starting in the early part of the pandemic, researchers evaluated the susceptibility of children and adults to COVID-19. Earlier research showed that ADHD is a risk factor for more emergency room visits for children and poorer lifetime health outcomes for adults.

A study from 2020 considered 1,870 COVID-19 patients between 5-60 years old, including among them 231 patients with an ADHD diagnosis. The researchers examined patterns of symptom severity for COVID-19. They found that having ADHD increased a patient’s likelihood of hospitalization. Patients who had ADHD also tended to have higher fevers and developed pneumonia more often than patients who did not have ADHD.

The researchers also found that those with ADHD were more likely to catch the COVID-19 virus than those without ADHD. They were also more likely to demonstrate symptoms from COVID-19 than to have an asymptomatic presentation.

Overall, researchers found that individuals with ADHD tended to become sicker from a COVID-19 infection, were admitted to the hospital more often, and experienced poorer recovery and more complications. The researchers also emphasized that more research is needed to better understand these findings as the pandemic continues. They state that clinicians benefit the most from this information, allowing them to better advise patients and be alert for possible complications from the interaction of ADHD and COVID-19.

Educational challenges during the pandemic

Students in kindergarten through the twelfth grade experienced disruptions to their education. Many students with ADHD saw dramatic changes in their 504 Plans or IEPs.

“Youth with ADHD were, and are, particularly vulnerable to interruptions to in-school learning as a function of the pandemic,” says George DuPaul, PhD, a former member of CHADD’s professional advisory board, “particularly with respect to engagement with learning, increased anxiety, and greater conflict with family members; and they are less responsive to factors that are helpful for youth without ADHD.”

Doctoral candidates working with Dr. DuPaul found that students who have ADHD were more likely to demonstrate symptoms when they caught COVID-19, rather than being asymptomatic. They were also more likely to experience difficulties with sleep, heightened levels of fear and anxiety, and engage in more rule-breaking behaviors than other students. They had more trouble with remote learning and were less prepared for the following school year.

What is more, the steps taken by adults to help students at home and educationally during the pandemic had less effect in supporting students with ADHD than those protective factors did for their peers. During the transition back into the classroom, students with ADHD are needing greater amounts of support and educational accommodation than their classmates.

The researchers note their findings can give parents and educators more information on addressing the needs of students with ADHD as communities transition away from pandemic precautions and school campuses are fully reopened.

Learn more about ADHD and COVID-19:

Join the discussion: How has the pandemic affected your family?