Dragana OstojicDragana Ostojic's masters research has found an association between early onset puberty in females and certain symptoms associated with ADHD.

Student finds connection between early puberty and ADHD

While a great deal more research needs to be done, a graduate student in psychology has found there may be a link between ADHD symptoms and the early onset of puberty in females.

Dragana Ostojic, who will defend her master’s thesis next month, analyzed a survey from 250 female undergraduate students. One of the questionnaires used was a pubertal development scale, which asked participants to recall when they met certain milestones relative to their peers, such as when they had their first period and noticed breast development.

The survey also asked respondents about whether they experience higher rates of inattentiveness, impulsivity, or difficulty with regulating their emotions – symptoms typically associated with ADHD. Her analysis of the data shows that those who scored higher on measures of ADHD-related symptoms and impairments had greater odds of being categorized as having earlier onset puberty.

“We can’t attribute this to a cause and effect,” she said. “We can’t say that early onset puberty is causing an increase in ADHD symptoms. It’s an association, but I think it’s a good first step for further research. But we do know that the timing of puberty has an effect on a number of cognitive and behavioural profiles. And we know that early onset puberty has been associated with negative outcomes, such as increased prevalence of eating disorders and risky behaviour.”

Whether Ostojic continues with more research on the subject is still up in the air. After she defends her thesis she’ll move on to the PhD program and will most likely explore a different research path.

“I really like the connection between psychology and biology, and I’ve always been interested in female mental health issues,” said Ostojic, who earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto and then worked as a research assistant at the Hospital for Sick Children. “But I’m also interested in doing more work related to impulsivity, risky behaviour and addictions.”

Whatever her next steps are in psychological research, Ostojic said she’ll be taking them knowing that she has solid guidance. 

“I have a great supervisor who is really encouraging and constructive,” she said of professor Carlin Miller.  “She’s there if you need her, but she’s not holding your hand. I think the best part of coming to Windsor has been the mentorship I’ve received.”

Ostojic said she’s also received a great deal of support and assistance from other grad students and faculty in the department.

“It’s a very collegial environment,” she said. “There are a lot of really good things about coming to Windsor.”