“Your child just can’t seem to pay attention in class. It could be ADHD.”
Yes. It could be ADHD, but did you know there are many other reasons why kids struggle to pay attention in class and while doing homework?
One Common Story
Michael constantly talks to his neighbors instead of doing his work. He’s always interested in what everyone else is doing, but he can’t seem to pay attention to his own work.
Sara tries really hard to be “good.” She sits up tall and looks directly at the teacher. But pretty soon, she’s fiddling with things on her desk or staring straight through the teacher. When it’s time to start working, she always has to ask, “What were we supposed to do?”
Jessica is getting Ds and Fs in high school. She can do the work, but she doesn’t pay attention in class, performs poorly on tests, and doesn’t get her work finished.
Sound familiar? These students, their parents, and their teachers are frustrated by their attention problems, but not one of them has ADHD!
If Not ADHD, Then What?
Paying attention and successful, easy learning depend upon a solid foundation of underlying learning skills. If a child has problems with any of these skills, his attention system will also be stressed. While attention may become a problem in school or with homework, it may not actually be the real problem.
Michael is dyslexic. He’s very smart and clever. He’s memorized some words, but he can’t sound out new words. When he looks at the page, it sometimes seems like the words and letters move around. At 10 years old, he’s already figured out that getting in trouble for “entertaining” his neighbors is preferable to anyone knowing he can’t read.
Sara has an auditory processing problem. She tries hard to listen, but what she hears is spotty and inconsistent, like a bad cell phone connection. She tries to fill in the gaps, but pretty soon it just doesn’t make sense and she can’t keep her attention on it anymore.
Jessica has weak processing and executive function skills. She’s pretty sure her parents and teacher are right when they say she’s lazy and unmotivated, because she just can’t seem to pay attention and get her work done.
Weak underlying processing and executive function skills can prevent capable students from being able to pull it all together and perform as expected. They struggle to keep up and have inconsistent homework grades and test scores.
Can These Challenges Be Changed?
Weak or inefficient underlying learning/processing skills will stress the attention system. In class and during homework, this looks like an attention problem – even ADD or ADHD. But the attention problem is really just a symptom of weak underlying skills.
Here’s the great news: These underlying skills can be developed. Addressing the root cause of the poor attention symptom can eliminate the problem.
Is There Such a Thing as ADHD?
Yes, I believe there are children and adults who truly have ADD or ADHD, a biochemical attention deficit. However, we need to be careful not to assume every student who struggles to pay attention in class is given this diagnosis. The behaviors in class often look similar, and as a result, far too many children end up on medication.
Because there does appear to be a biochemical component to a true attention deficit, we find that the best kind of treatment is a combination of attention focus training and addressing the biochemistry. Many of our students are able to do this very successfully through diet and by taking natural supplements.
Jill Stowell, M.S., is the Founder and Executive Director of Stowell Learning Centers, Inc. She is also the author of At Wit’s End: A Parent’s Guide to Ending the Struggle, Tears and Turmoil of Learning Disabilities. Learn more at www.LearningDisability.com.