PhD graduate, Dr Gloria Pila-Nemutandani.

PhD Study Focuses on Children with ADHD

Dr Gloria Pila-Nemutandani’s PhD in Behavioural Medicine investigated lateralisation and compared gross motor skills in order to establish whether children with ADHD have deficits in fine motor skills.

The study also tested the participants’ visuomotor performance.

Supervised by Professors Basil Pillay and Anneke Meyer, the study revealed a relationship between Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptomatology, laterality and motor problems with regard to complex tasks of accuracy, but not with respect to a simple task of motor speed.

According to Pila-Nemutandani, although ADHD involves a constellation of symptoms such as inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity, children with ADHD have motor problems that are often characterised as clumsiness or poor motor co-ordination. ‘The disorder has been linked with poor social, academic and occupational outcomes,’ she said

The study tested 160 primary school children (80 with ADHD and 80 matched controls) aged between seven and 13, both females and males, on simple tasks to establish hand, foot, eye and ear dominance. They were tested on gross motor skills, tasks such as kicking, catching, walking, standing, and dribbling. The Grooved Pegboard Test, Maze Coordination Task and the Finger Tapping Test were used to measure fine motor skills. To test visuomotor skills, she used the NEPSY-II Design copying subtest.

Pila-Nemutandani’s results showed that crossed laterality was more prevalent in the ADHD group than the control group (79% v. 41%). The results also indicated that crossed laterality may lead to more symptoms of ADHD. Ear dominance was shown to be a more accurate predictor of ADHD symptoms than handedness, footedness and/or eye dominance as in this study; it could discriminate between children with ADHD and a control group without ADHD symptoms.

With regard to fine motor skills, the study revealed that children with ADHD performed significantly more poorly than the control group with regard to the Grooved Pegboard and Maze Co-ordination Tasks, but not the Finger Tapping Task. There were no gender differences in all the tests. Performance on the Maze Co-ordination Task showed that the non-dominant hand was poorer for the ADHD group with regard to the time taken to complete the task. However, no hand dominance differences were found with the Grooved Pegboard and Finger Tapping tests.

The gross motor skills category showed that children with ADHD exhibited poorer performance in all tasks. The gender of the participants influenced performance with regard to kicking and dribbling tasks. The visuomotor characteristics supported the prediction that children with ADHD show evidence of impaired visuo-motor skills, and present poorer proficiency in discriminating area, shape, slope, line length and size consistency of the designs.

Based on these findings, Pila-Nemutandani recommended that motor skills training should be considered as part of interventions for children with ADHD, as these skills are required for many daily activities and academic competencies.

‘God bless my supervisors, who supported me and were patient with me. What attracted me to UKZN was its reputation as a research-led institution and the fact that I could publish prior to final submission and challenge the status quo with regard to ADHD research.’ She has published four articles based on her study.

Pila-Nemutandani is currently working on a research project investigating neurodevelopmental disorders (Autism, ADHD, etc.) in the North West Province.

‘I would like to venture into experiential research to explore the brain-behaviour relationship and still maintain and serve communities as a Clinical Psychologist,’ she said.

She is married to Mashudu and they have two children, Takalani and Khuliso. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking and gardening.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Supplied