Applied Problem Solving in Children with ADHD: The Mediating Roles of Working Memory and Mathematical Calculation

Lauren M. Friedman, Mark D. Rapport, Sarah A. Orban, Samuel J. Eckrich, Catrina A. Calub

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


The difficulties children with ADHD experience solving applied math problems are well documented; however, the independent and/or interactive contributions of cognitive processes underlying these difficulties are not fully understood and warrant scrutiny. The current study examines two primary cognitive processes integral to children’s ability to solve applied math problems: working memory (WM) and math calculation skills (i.e., the ability to utilize specific facts, skills, or processes related to basic math operations stored in long-term memory). Thirty-six boys with ADHD-combined presentation and 33 typically developing (TD) boys aged 8–12 years old were administered multiple counterbalanced tasks to assess upper (central executive [CE]) and lower level (phonological [PH STM] and visuospatial [VS STM] short-term memory) WM processes, and standardized measures of mathematical abilities. Bias-corrected, bootstrapped mediation analyses revealed that CE ability fully mediated between-group differences in applied problem solving whereas math calculation ability partially mediated the relation. Neither PH STM nor VS STM was a significant mediator. When modeled together via serial mediation analysis, CE in tandem with math calculation ability fully mediated the relation, explained 79% of the variance, and provided a more parsimonious explication of applied mathematical problem solving differences among children with ADHD. Results suggest that interventions designed to address applied math difficulties in children with ADHD will likely benefit from targeting basic knowledge of math facts and skills while simultaneously promoting the active interplay of these skills with CE processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)491-504
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Applied math problems, executive functions
  • Arithmetic calculation
  • Attention/deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Mathematics
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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