Why Can’t My Child Pay Attention? Why Can’t He Sit Still?
These are all too common questions asked by parents shortly after school starts each year here in Tehachapi, or any town.
Lots of things can be happening in the life of a child that might make him or her restless, distracted, or even impulsive. Of all the possibilities – ranging from food sensitivities, to grief, to childhood depression or anxiety – the most common is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, also known simply as “ADHD.”
This is why a good assessment of the child or teen is so very important. At our Bear Valley Springs office, just outside of Tehachapi, we use parent interviews, child interviews, the Stroop Color Word Test (to assess for head injuries or dyslexia), and the Test of Variables of Attention also called the TOVA test. Using these tools, and investing this amount of time, can give a pretty accurate diagnosis. I have written several articles about diagnosing ADHD at the ADHD Information Library.
ADHD is one of the most common childhood behavior disorders, and somewhere between 5% and 9% of all children have ADHD. Of all children referred to counselors, more are referred for ADHD than for any other reason. ADHD is very treatable with several effective options ranging from medications to alternative therapies, counseling, and educational interventions.
ADHD can cause problems in many of the areas of life, including home, school, work, and in relationships. It can be a chronic and unrelenting problem. Though it will change in form through the years, it will persist into adulthood and impact all relationships including marriages, parenting, and work performance.
ADHD is a neuro-biological disorder. It is not the result of bad parenting, or watching too much T.V., or a lack of discipline or love by parents. While any or all of these may be problems, the ADHD would exist even if Ozzie and Harriet were the parents. ADHD has neuro-biological roots. There are very strong genetic factors that influence both brain function and development. There are also other potential factors that might cause one to acquire ADHD symptoms, such as brain injuries or high fevers from infections.
ADHD impacts individuals in four main areas of their life:
- Inattention, which causes people to have problems paying attention to routine or boring tasks, or staying focused on a task long enough to finish the task, especially if the task is not very interesting.
- Impulsivity, which is a lack of self-control. Impulsive behaviors, or choices, can cause havoc in relationships, work, school, or life. Saying things, or doing things without thinking first, or considering the consequences, is a pretty classic symptom of ADHD in both children and adults.
- Hyperactivity, which is “excessive, non-goal directed, motor activity.” Many (though not all) with ADHD are “bouncy,” hyperactive, always “on the go,” and restless. The standard line is that they act as if they are “driven by a motor.”
- Easily Bored , unless the task is very stimulating, like a video game or TV program or outside playing, those with ADHD are often easily bored by a task – especially bored by homework, math tests, or doing taxes, and many of these tasks just never get done.
ADHD is not the result of “bad parenting” or obnoxious, willful defiance on the part of the child. Yes, a child may be willfully defiant whether he has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or not. Defiance, rebelliousness, and selfishness are more often “moral” issues than neurological issues. We make no excuses for “immoral,” “selfish,” or “destructive” behaviors, whether from individuals with ADHD or not.
After helping children and teens with ADHD for about 30 years, I offer some free resources to parents that just might be helpful. The ADHD Information Library is an online resource with over 230 articles that I’ve written through the years on ADHD at http://Newideas.net. Another resource is at http://ADDinSchool.com where I have about 500 classroom ideas to help children and teens with ADHD be more successful at school. For parents interested in trying some alternative treatment ideas, our ADHD Diet Program ebook is available at http://ADHDdiet.info, and we also recommend VAXA’s excellent products Attend and Extress. If you would like to know more, please feel free to call or email me directly.
Douglas Cowan, Psy.D., M.S. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist here in Tehachapi, CA who has been a skillful counselor to children, teens, and adults helping them to overcome ADHD, find relief for depression or anxiety, and solve other problems in life since 1989. He served on the medical advisory board to the company that makes Attend and Extress from 1997 through 2011, and he is the Editor of the ADHD Information Library online resource. His ADHD Newsletter goes out to 9,500 families. He can be reached at (661) 972-5953 or via email at newideas.net AT gmail.com.