If there is one cognitive skill Americans are familiar with it is this week’s topic: attention. It seems that every parent asks themselves, “Does my have child have ADHD?” And that is largely because the diagnosis of ADHD has risen significantly over the years. According to the CDC, 6.4 million children between the ages of 4-17, or 11%, had been diagnosed with ADHD in 2011. That is up from 7.8% in 2003.
While all cognitive skills are important, attention plays a particularly big role in our contemporary lives. So if you are currently asking yourself, “does my child have ADHD?” you will want to keep reading.
Attention is the ability to initiate and maintain focus for learning, work, and behavior control. It is a skill in the cognitive domain of executive functions. Additional distinctions about ADHD, ADD, etc. can be found in our glossary of educational terms.
In the shoes of a child with ADHD
Most people have probably met a child with a stereotypical case of ADHD. This child cannot sit for long in the chair without talking, moving around, fidgeting, etc. But these are not the only children with attention weaknesses. Some children appear to be just like everyone else on the outside. In their mind, however, ideas are racing around and they can be struggling to filter out competing sounds or images. They start out listening, but their minds wander. Adults my find themselves constantly reprimanding or nagging the child who seems to never listen or do what they are told. But this kid just feels like telling the world to “stop telling me what to do!” Or they are frustrated because it always seems that they should know what to do, but for some reason they just don’t remember being told.
The signs: Does my child have ADHD
A child with an attention weakness but without hyperactivity or other apparent challenges may go unnoticed for a time. However, you will often see a kid who can start a homework assignment, but always has a reason for getting up after a few minutes. You might see a child who stays seated, but begins to look at nearby items, such as a phone or books. Also, a student might hand in a partially answered test early, because they just do not have the attention to finish. This child’s notes may have lots of half completed sentences or apparent chunks of time missing. A hallmark of children with attention weaknesses is inconsistent performance between assignments, and in some cases, within an assignment.
Who can diagnosis ADHD
If you want to know definitively if your child has ADHD, you will need to visit a psychologist or a psychiatrist. While many pediatricians also can diagnose ADHD, you will want to be sure your pediatrician specializes in ADHD as it can be tricky to diagnose accurately. Many parents who are unsure and are not ready to seek professional help might ask for an observation by the school psychologist or use a valid, at-home ADHD screener like Mindprint.
How to help
Medications can help a child with a diagnosed weakness in attention, but they are not always the best option for every child and definitely not the only way to help. Often parents can arrange for children with diagnosed weak attention to have extra time for standardized tests and be placed in smaller work groups. For most children, having an understanding of why they feel so different is helpful. That understanding also leads to self-advocacy, and ultimately, to self-confidence even if the weakness doesn’t qualify them for school accommodations. These students will need help making trade-offs: “When do I give myself a rest and take the easier task versus when do I make the investment in the harder task?” They may need more help in budgeting time or make more trade-offs in the number and type of activities they can take on. They may also require more repetition to pick up on information missed the first time through. Students with attention weaknesses also benefit from help implementing an organizational system for schoolwork in the beginning of each semester.
Keep in mind
Attention plays a role in all of a child’s daily activities, not just schoolwork. It can affect relationships with friends. How do you think other children will react when they think your child doesn’t listen to them? It can affect all skills and all classes. Be patient and supportive with this child.
This is a big topic, to say the least. In a few days, we’ll be following up this post with information on some key questions such as:
What types of evaluations can determine if a child has ADHD?
How does ADHD manifest differently in girls?
How do gifted children with ADHD, often twice exceptional, learn to work with their circumstance?
Is ADHD classified as a learning disability?
Find many more articles on ADHD
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