What if not all attention problems are ADHD?

Diagnosing ADHD can be a complex process.  Unfortunately, online forms are used by many parents to diagnose their children. However, it’s common symptoms can be indicative of other disorders. Let’s examine what is normal development and other potential causes of attention difficulties.  

What is ADHD?

ADHD includes three separate kinds of behaviours:

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavioural disorder which often becomes obvious in early childhood ( before 12). It is often diagnosed by a specialist clinician such as a Paediatrician, Psychiatrist, Specialist Nurse etc.

What are the Symptoms of ADHD?

  • Inattentive behaviours, in which a child has trouble paying attention
  • Hyperactivity being on the go, restless and fidgety
  • Impulsive behaviours, in which a child has too much energy and has trouble controlling their impulses

According to the Royal College of Psychiatry:

ADHD can present with different behaviours depending on the age, setting (i.e. school, home, playground) and even motivation (e.g. when doing an activity or something a child likes).

Not all children have all the symptoms. Hence, some can just have problems with poor attention, while others are mainly hyperactive.

Note: Girls are often undiagnosed!

They may be more likely to receive an incorrect diagnosis of another mental health or neurodevelopmental condition. 

Children with problems of attention can appear forgetful, distracted, not seeming to listen and disorganised. As a result your child make take ages to start something.

Children with hyperactivity seem restless, fidgety, full of energy ‘always on the go’. Therefore, they may seem loud, noisy with a continuous chatter. 

Children with symptoms of impulsivity do things without thinking. As a consequence, they have difficulty waiting for their turn in games or in a queue. You may notice your child often interrupts you in conversation.

Why can some children with ADHD play a video game for ages but not do their school work?

Experts say what’s really disordered is the child’s ability to control and direct what he’s/she’s paying attention to.

Most children with ADHD are able to focus intensely on things that are exciting to them, like video games, but they can’t maintain that kind of focus on things that aren’t immediately rewarding, like schoolwork or putting on their shoes or going to bed.  

Here is great video from the National Centre of Mental Health to explain ADHD to children.

What’s normal development?

Many children especially the under fives have attention difficulties, this does not mean they are suffering from ADHD.

Children are not born with the capacity for self-control? Helping your child to regulate is one of the most important tasks in parenting and within ourselves. Learning involves using the executive functions of the brain particularly the ability to focus, pay attention, engage with a task, and use working memory.

Self-regulation is the capacity to manage emotions and behaviour in accordance with the demands of the situation. It is also our capacity to calm/self soothe when upset and furthermore be flexible to a change in an expectation or routine. It means your child can stay focused on their goal even though there may internal and external changes.

Often parents mistake difficulties in emotional regulation and deficits in executive functioning skills for ADHD.

You can find out more at my blog here Executive Functioning Skills versus Emotional Regulation

Other Reasons For Attention Difficulties

To avoid mis diagnosing you child, you may want to consider other possibilities such as:

Stress or Trauma?

Children can also appear to be suffering from inattention when they have been impacted by a trauma. Children who’ve witnessed or exposed to violence or other disturbing experiences may demonstrate difficulty paying attention and a persistent sense of insecurity called hypervigilance. There is a possibility that this may lead to PTSD, whose symptoms are similar to those of ADHD.  

Anxiety

A child who is having trouble focusing at school may be suffering from chronic worry. As a result, the anxiety makes it difficult for them to stay on task and teachers often feel they are not paying attention. Many children who are anxious worry about speaking aloud in class or making a mistake, which may cause them to look distracted and not paying attention to avoid connecting with the teacher.

OCD

Older children often suffer from OCD. As a consequence, obsessive thoughts and compulsions prevent them from paying attention and concentrating in class. In my experience, many teenagers go to great lengths to hide their symptoms.

Sleep Disorders

A psychiatrist named Vatsal Thakkar writes about the relationship between sleep disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in both children and adults. It is a great article, you can read it here Diagnosing the Wrong Deficit

It is also possible to mimic ADHD symptoms if you do not get enough sleep or have interrupted sleep. You may be hyperactive and unfocused for example. If you think your teenager has ADHD, remember that the symptoms have to be present throughout childhood, not just now. As a result of work pressures and the use of screens in their lives, but also the effects of the pandemic combined with extensional anxiety for the future, many teenagers are simply not getting enough sleep.  

Learning Disorders

Children with undiagnosed dyslexia might fidget with frustration or feel ashamed that they can’t seem to do what the other children can do. Children may have an undiagnosed sensory processing disorder or difficulties in working memory and processing. If children don’t understand what’s going on around them, it’s hard for them to focus and join in classwork. Often teachers think a child may have ADHD.

In Conclusion

As you can see, there are many reasons your child could be struggling. Any child deserves a full and thorough assessment in order for them to receive the right diagnosis and suitable treatment intervention.

Remember: parenting is hard work and you all deserve support. And when it all starts to feel impossible, ask for help. If you need help and support contact me for a consultation or do join my newsletter communityWith Gratitude Catherine 

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Disclaimer

The content of my blog is provided for general information only. They are not intended to, and does not, amount to advice which you should rely on. They are not in any way an alternative to specific advice.

You must therefore obtain the relevant professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action based on the information in this blog.

If you have questions about any medical matter, you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider without delay.

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