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Poor housing quality has been linked to the symptoms and severity experienced for over one in 10 children with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

A recent study from UNSW Sydney has found ADHD in children correlated with indoor environmental quality (IEQ) in homes.

The research is among the first with a large sample size to document the association between ADHD in children and the indoor conditions of their homes, including lighting, acoustic quality, air quality and thermal comfort.

“While the findings don’t necessarily mean causality, this research suggests the indoor environment has some influence on symptom presentations and severity of ADHD in children,” said child psychiatrist and senior author Professor Valsamma Eapen from UNSW Medicine & Health.

ADHD will be the focus of a new Parliamentary Inquiry set to examine the impact the disorder is having on Australians nationwide.

The UNSW researchers 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 a self-reporting Housing Environmental Quality Assessment tool. A control group of children who did not have ADHD were included in the study for comparison.

The research found for over one in 10 children with ADHD, housing IEQ factors were associated with the symptoms and diagnosis of ADHD. The poorer the IEQ, the more severe the symptoms were.

Children with ADHD may be extra sensitive to their everyday surroundings and home environment, said Sima Alizadeh, lead author of the study from UNSW Arts, Design & Architecture.

“In particular, the severity of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity was impacted by a collective contribution of air quality, acoustic quality, and problems with lighting and thermal comfort within their home.”

The findings support previous research which found that everyday distractions like noise adversely influence children’s psychological wellbeing and may worsen inattention and behavioural issues in children with ADHD.

Creating ADHD-friendly spaces

Adjusting indoor spaces may be key to supporting children with ADHD, according to the researchers.

“Having air free from unpleasant smells or dust, sufficient lighting, and suitable acoustic quality free from distracting noise at home may help to manage ADHD symptoms,” Ms Alizadeh said.

“It is also vital to have heaters and fans in the home to provide a comfortable temperature for the children.”

Most homes are designed for the needs of an average healthy adult user and building regulations should be improved to accommodate more diverse needs, she said.

“It’s essential to add some policy guidelines for future housing to ensure the indoor environmental quality factors we can control like ventilation and air quality are ADHD-friendly.”

“Alongside addressing air quality and thermal comfort in the home, it’s important we are looking at how all of the spaces in our lives like outdoors and green space can better support children with ADHD,” Professor Eapen said.

The findings are published in the journal Sustainability.