Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Looking at Attention Issues Part 1

We all need to be good at paying attention. Attending to our environment and the people in it is essential for learning and safety. Today’s post is a first look at attention and focuses on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Most of the information below is from the website PubMed Health, which is produced by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a division of the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health (

What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?
ADHD is a problem with inattentiveness, over-activity, impulsivity, or a combination. For these problems to be diagnosed as ADHD, they must be out of the normal range for a child's age and development.

The symptoms of ADHD fall into three groups:
  • Lack of attention (inattentiveness)
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsive behavior (impulsivity)

Inattentive symptoms
1.Fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork
2.Has difficulty keeping attention during tasks or play
3.Does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
4.Does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace
5.Has difficulty organizing tasks and activities
6.Avoids or dislikes tasks that require sustained mental effort (such as schoolwork)
7.Often loses toys, assignments, pencils, books, or tools needed for tasks or activities
8.Is easily distracted
9.Is often forgetful in daily activities

Hyperactivity symptoms:
1.Fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat
2.Leaves seat when remaining seated is expected
3.Runs about or climbs in inappropriate situations
4.Has difficulty playing quietly
5.Is often "on the go," acts as if "driven by a motor," talks excessively

Impulsivity symptoms:
1.Blurts out answers before questions have been completed
2.Has difficulty awaiting turn
3.Interrupts or intrudes on others (butts into conversations or games)

Signs and tests
Too often, children are incorrectly labeled with ADHD. On the other hand, many children who do have ADHD remain undiagnosed. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued guidelines to bring more clarity to this issue.
The diagnosis for ADHD is based on very specific symptoms, which must be present in more than one setting.
  • Children should have at least 6 attention symptoms or 6 hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms, with some symptoms present before age 7.
  • The symptoms must be present for at least 6 months, seen in two or more settings, and not caused by another problem.
  • The symptoms must be severe enough to cause significant difficulties in many settings, including home, school, and in relationships with peers.

The child should have an evaluation by a doctor if ADHD is suspected. Evaluation may include:
  • Parent and teacher questionnaires (for example, Connors, Burks)
  • Psychological evaluation of the child AND family, including IQ testing and psychological testing
  • Complete developmental, mental, nutritional, physical, and psychosocial examination

My thoughts
ADHD is a big topic of conversation in schools. Teachers are often the first ones to note behaviors that may be symptoms of ADHD. But the important word in that statement is may. If a teacher has concerns about a student’s attention, she is right to speak of her concerns with the student's parents. But teachers do not diagnose ADHD. Diagnosis is a medical issue.
In the next weeks, I’ll cover evaluation, treatment options and things you can do to help.

Do you have questions you’d like to see covered? Experiences to share? Please write them in the Comments box. Thanks.

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