To better understand the challenges caused by ADHD, families and teachers should first understand how the three primary aspects of attention (Inattention, Hyperactivity and Impulsivity) interact with each other. But don’t stop there to see and understand the whole iceberg, you need to read chapters two and three.
It sounds as if the child with an “attention deficit” cannot pay attention to anything – when in fact she pays attention to everything around her. She cannot direct her attention to the most important information. Used properly, not being able to pay attention to one thing at a time can become a strength as an adult. Adults with attention problems can often juggle many responsibilities and tasks at once. As a result, they can accomplish a lot in a short amount of time. This type of juggling can be a problem for a child when he is expected to sit in his seat and complete the math assignment on page 258 between 1 and 2 o’clock even though he is still thinking about the writing assignment he had before lunch.
Children with problems focusing struggle to inhibit their attention to unimportant information others “tune-out.” They often complain that it is “too noisy” when they are trying to do homework and someone in the next room is talking on the phone or making dinner. Common descriptors from parents and teachers include:
- He is easily drawn off-task due to unimportant sounds
- She often pays attention to visual details others ignore
- He always needs instructions repeated
- He does not seem to listen, and he seems to forget easily
- She misses the main idea of instructions
- He struggles to learn the most important details in school work
- She has trouble figuring out what is important when listening
- She remembers trivial detail more than important facts
- He is hyperactive
Yes, hyperactivity is largely the result of trouble focusing on the right thing at the right time: it’s not really about activity. When faced with many choices, the hyperactive child moves from one thing to another without ever focusing on one item for very long: he needs help focusing on the one thing at a time so he can slow down. Rather than being hyperactive, some girls with attention challenges are hyper-sensitive: parents often use the term “drama-queen” to describe their girls with ADD; but, I’m getting ahead of myself: we’ll discuss girls exclusively in the next chapter.
Children and teens (and adults) with ADHD often have difficulty anticipating the consequences of their actions: They often “act before they think” and are called impulsive. Common comments from parents and teachers include:
- He does not always consider the results of his actions
- She does not plan before starting school work
- He has trouble slowing down long enough to solve problems
- She fails to recognize when makes poor choices
- He completes activities “the hard way”
- She has trouble determining time needs
- He fails to notice when others are upset
- She does not seem to notice careless work errors
- He fails to learn from mistakes
- She fails to use an approach that has worked well in the past
Children who can monitor and adjust their behavior do well in most classrooms, church services, and fancy dining experiences. In contrast, the enthusiastic, uninhibited child may be frowned upon when she has trouble sitting through many hour-long church services.
Well-meaning friends and family may suggest parenting classes not knowing the parents are doing all they can to help their enthusiastic, active child “fit” into a world that demands she “think before acting.” As a result, parents may often find themselves apologizing to friends or even total strangers for their child’s actions after church or a long dinner at a nice restaurant.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
“Consistent inconsistency” is one of the hallmark features of ADHD that very few people talk about. The most consistent thing about the child or adult with attention challenges is that we are inconsistent. Day-to-day, hour to hour, we can be highly unpredictable. Sometimes, if we are dealing with something that involves our passion in life, a new exciting activity for us, or an overstimulating task like watching TV or playing video games, we may actually seem to “over-focus.” Other times, especially if we are dealing with something that is boring and monotonous, our mental energy and attention to task seem to quickly evaporate like a fine mist on a hot day in Dallas. Sometimes, once the novelty wears off of an interest or passion, we can become easily bored with it and decide to quit: this can be a source of frustration for the parent who has bought and paid for an expensive piano or any other piece of equipment for their child.
Just when you think you’ve figured out how your child with ADHD ticks, consistent inconsistency strikes, another interest or challenge arises, and it’s “back to the drawing board.” This oxymoron “consistent inconsistency” can be both confusing and amusing at times. What’s important is to keep your eyes on the prize: keep laughing and loving your child!
“Flexiture,” forms another oxymoron of sorts: flexibly structuring can help the consistently inconsistent child or teen survive and thrive in this often unstructured and inflexible world. Keep reading to find out how.
(c) 2009, flexiture, monte w. davenport, ph.d