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Beyond Distraction: Helping Your Child Overcome Attention Challenges

written by Dr. Jennie Gary

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Welcome back to another Kid’s Corner. I’m Doctor Jennie, and today we’re going to be talking about a topic that’s becoming increasingly more common in children – poor attention and ADHD (or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

ADHD is a chronic disorder of the brain that makes it difficult to control impulses.

If you have ever noticed that your child has difficulty focusing or finishing tasks, then it’s a good idea to talk about it more with your doctor.

Let’s talk about some of the signs and symptoms of ADHD.

There are three main categories we see in ADHD.

The first is inattention. This can look like frequent moments of daydreaming where a child’s attention drifts off. They might have trouble following directions or have difficulty staying focused on a task, or they may just seem overly forgetful or frequently lose things.

Due to the inattention, they can also show problems learning or might struggle to finish their school work. With frequently missed details, this can lead to problems in comprehension and school performance.

The second feature of ADHD is hyperactivity.

Some children may fidget or cannot sit still and have lots of energy. I mean, what young child doesn’t have a lot of energy. But in ADHD, this will be pronounced and frequent. You may also notice a child who’s hyperactive that moves around quickly or knocks into objects often.

The third feature we see in ADHD is impulsivity.

Children with impulsivity sometimes act without thinking as if they’re being run by a motor. They might have trouble taking turns. They may often interrupt, push, or even grab things that aren’t theirs, and you might even notice more risk-taking behaviors.

It’s important to note that boys are more than twice as likely as girls to be diagnosed with ADHD, and ADHD is more common in children with other language and learning problems as well.

So, what causes ADHD?

The exact cause is not clear, although it does seem to have a genetic basis. There may also be some prenatal exposure factors at play.

ADHD is not caused by eating too much sugar, or by food additives, allergies, or immunizations.

And listen carefully: ADHD is not caused by poor parenting.

If you do have concerns your child may have ADHD or attention problems, what should you do?

First, talk to your child’s teachers and caretakers to see if they have noticed any issues. ADHD is a diagnosis that’s made based on the presence of symptoms both in a home and a school setting.

Then, make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician as well as their school to discuss your concerns.

Both the school and your doctor can provide further assistance, evaluation, resources, and referrals as needed.

If you do have concerns, I encourage you to speak to your doctor sooner than later. If your child does have ADHD, it is chronic and usually won’t go away on its own.

Unfortunately, untreated ADHD over time can become more pronounced and can lead to problems in forming social relationships, poor school performance, and eventually can negatively impact one’s mental health and self-esteem.

But don’t worry. Once diagnosed, there are excellent proven treatments available for ADHD depending on your child’s age. This usually involves therapy and sometimes medication.

As an example, I once saw a patient who simply could not sit still in the room. He was constantly moving around, touching everything in the room, and having difficulty following directions because he just couldn’t pay attention.

His mother had brought him in because of failing grades, and she was worried that he had an undiagnosed intellectual disability or a low IQ. But when I talked to her more, it was clear that the content of the material wasn’t the problem.

His problem was finishing his classroom assignments. And he was often not even turning in his homework because he was completely missing the teacher’s explanation of what the homework assignment was.

We had him evaluated for ADHD more formally through the school district, and testing showed that he did in fact meet the criteria for ADHD.

He was started on an ADHD treatment program, which included behavioral therapy. And within one year, his grades had all improved to A’s and B’s.

So please, if you have any concerns about your child’s attention, talk to your child’s pediatrician to find out more.

While you are awaiting further information, there are some basic things that you can do at home to help your child focus better.

Praise and reward your child for any positive behavior, and give your child plenty of attention and affection.

Try to follow a routine for meals, naps, and bedtime.

Some children with ADHD have a hard time with change, and knowing what comes next in the schedule can be very helpful.

Avoid skipping meals and make sure your child gets plenty of sleep.

Give instructions to your child clearly. Give one instruction at a time and break down large tasks into smaller steps.

You may need to repeat the instructions more than once and make sure you make eye contact from giving directions.

Also, try to avoid distractions in the background like TV. If your child is working on homework or larger tasks, build in frequent small breaks.

Try to be patient and calm around your child. Your child may unintentionally act without thinking so try not to get angry too easily.

Look for extracurricular activities like art, sports, music, or dance that your child likes and can do well. This can help boost your child’s self-esteem.

At school, ask your child’s teacher if your child needs any extra help and encourage your child to ask questions whenever they are confused about anything.

Help your child organize his or her schoolwork. Teach them how to use checklists to keep on track.

And finally, communicate often with your child’s teachers and caretakers. Communication is very important.

I know that attention concerns can be challenging for a parent. I’ve treated many children with attention and with the right care, they have been able to achieve as much in school and life as any other child.

Thanks for watching another edition of Kid’s Corner. I’m Doctor Jennie. I’ll see you next time.

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