Parents and teachers often worry that a child has ADHD/ADD when they see that he does not sit still, is inattentive and does not finish his work. Immediate concerns about stimulant medication arise.
ADHD / ADD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; sometimes just called: Attention Deficit Disorder) has symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. It is linked to inefficient neural pathways in the brain which use Dopamine as their neuro-transmitter. It is because the dopamine neuro-receptor pathways are under-performing that stimulant medication has such a positive effect on performance in people who really do have ADHD/ADD. When people have been incorrectly diagnosed, the chances are that stimulant
medication will not be helpful. This could be part of the reason that medication has received such bad press. It is also the reason that it is very important to have your child carefully assessed by a specialist paediatrician, who truly understands ADHD/ ADD before making a
The diagnosis needs a history of inattention going back to around 5 years old and should be seen in more than one of the environments the child is usually in. For example: if your child spends time at school, home and at play with friends, the inattention should not only be seen at school.
It is often difficult to notice inattention at home or at play; while it is very easy to notice inattention at school. I have noticed that many parents seem unaware of their child’s attention until I ask the right questions and they get to thinking about how well their child manages to follow instructions. For example, when a Mom says to her child: “Go and tell Daddy that I want him to come to the table”; he child goes off and stops to play with the cat along the way; then completely forgets what he was supposed to be doing.
Inattention at play is often missed until you notice that your child gets into trouble with peers for forgetting the rules or not sticking to their turn. On the sports field, the inattentive child will be day-dreaming when the ball finally comes to his corner of the field.
Hyperactivity and impulsivity are easier to recognise. However, it is not necessary for a child to be markedly impulsive or wildly hyperactive to still have ADHD / ADD. They could have the ADHD / ADD –Inattentive Type. These children are our “dreamers”. Although their inattention still has negative effects on their learning, they are often overlooked because they do not cause a disturbance in the class. If your child is clever, he is often able to work out
what was being taught during the moments of inattention in the early years.
Problems become more evident and more damaging as the complexity of work becomes greater, requiring more focussed attention.
Children with ADHD / ADD-Inattention Type might only begin to notice difficulties when they need to start studying for examinations. These children can look at the same page for a few minutes and suddenly realise that they have not read one word. Studying is not much fun for most of us and for children with ADHD / ADD it is even harder. They are working against the chemistry of their brains to try to remain focussed and to commit the information to memory. It takes them longer and can become traumatic for them.
What can we do to help our children if they have difficulties with maintaining attention? There are many management strategies that we can use to support focussed attention and to train our children in having an organised, systematic approach to tasks (this is a big difficulty for children with inattention or fluctuating attention).
Here are some ideas:
* Get eye contact with your child and keep verbal instruction SHORT.
* Your child should tell you what you asked of him before going off to do it.
* Use simple mantras to develop the inner dialogue your child will need to talk himself through a task (eg: when learning to write ‘b’ he can repeat: “down and bounce to the right”; for developing an organised approach to copying written work: “look and check and make it the same”).
* Everyone finds it easier to pay attention if the subject is interesting! So find ways to make it exciting.
* Simply repeatedly practising work such as mathematics or spelling does NOT work for children with inattention. Rather, use colour, texture, movement and as many senses as you can include in the task.
* Children with inattention are very motivated by instant reward. They are therefore great candidates for a well organised, consistently managed token reward system, such as a star-chart for completing their work, correctly and neatly.
* Allowing brief movement breaks between long periods of sitting still is important to re-focus and re-energise many children.
* Brain-storming is a method of scribbling down ideas as they come to you, regardless of their order or exact relevance. This is very helpful for children with inattention. They can use this for essay writing and as an exam technique. They write the ideas on a scrap page and then decide which to write about, tick it of and choose another. ADHD children find it difficult to
organise their thoughts and holding the information in their working memory to write about it. Brain-storming enables them to throw the ideas down as quickly as they come and then sift through them afterwards.
* Study skills training is important. Teach your child to find key words and highlight them. Colour and simple drawings help keep his focus.
Your child might have inattention for a different reason and not be ADHD / ADD. The above methods still help many of these other children as well; but it is important to find out what the real reason for the inattention is. Depression and stress are two other causes of inattention and need correct management. Children with SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder) will have inattention and often appear hyperactive or lethargic; but this is a result of their body’s responses to their inefficient sensory processing of their environment. Children with Dyspraxia, auditory processing disorder or another learning disability might appear to have
inattention; but they may well have adequate attention except that their learning disability requires extra attention and effort and thus tires or frustrates them quickly.
Your child might have no actual condition that is causing inattention; but he is being bullied at school or has fallen in with a bad crowd. Simply moving home or school or having big changes happening in the family can have an impact on your child’s attention.
It is always important to recognise that inattention is both a difficulty and a symptom. It should not be ignored and seldom means that your child is just lazy. Identifying the real cause of inattention and dealing with it correctly prevents struggles and troubles down the road. Ignoring inattention or labelling it as bad behaviour has a very big chance of causing long-term behavioural and emotional difficulties.
I have worked with children who have inattention for decades now. The thing that I enjoy most about this work is that, when we find the reason and address it correctly, these children blossom! They begin a journey to their real potential and develop a positive sense of esteem and love of learning. Now that’s what all of us want for our children!
CLICK HERE TO LEARN ABOUT A READING PROGRAMME developed for children with learning difficulties including inattention.