We all have our own ideas about what ‘attention’ means. However, when asked to fully describe attention, many of us will...
If someone mentions a child has a problem with attention, most people’s thoughts turn to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). As the name implies, ADHD definitely encompasses an attention component but attention vulnerabilities can appear in a number of different guises.
Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Major Depressive Disorder, Anxiety, Traumatic Brain Injury and certain genetic syndromes (e.g. Down Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome, etc.) can all display an inability to direct, maintain, or shift attention and concentration.
With inattention issues proving predominant in children, an increasing number of teenagers and adults are now being diagnosed, thanks to detection and diagnostics techniques evolving, along with acceptance and understanding of inattention as a treatable condition.
Far from being a life-long handicap or impenetrable obstacle, diagnosis and treatment of ADHD and other inattention vulnerabilities – in conjunction with an increasing body of research into the subject – plays a significant role in ensuring any students who experience these conditions are still able to maximise their potential in the classroom.
Depending on the underlying cause of a child’s attention vulnerabilities, attention is a skill that can be taught and learnt.
What is ADHD?
It’s estimated that more than 6.4 million children are diagnosed with ADHD in the United States, and Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital estimates one in 20 Australian children have ADHD.
As Jon Johnson explains on the medically reviewed website Medical News Today, ADHD is “a neurodevelopmental disorder that features a variety of symptoms.” These symptoms often include difficulty concentrating, poor impulse control and, as the title of the condition suggests, a form of hyperactivity – always being ‘on the go.’
ADHD is problematic for children (not to mention their parents and carers) as the symptoms make important childhood developmental milestones like classroom learning and academic achievement, establishing and developing relationships with other kids (and socialising in general) and understanding actions have consequences much more difficult than it is for kids with healthier learning and attention abilities.
Undiagnosed ADHD sufferers can experience a range of negative life outcomes such as poor academic records and displays of anti-social behaviour that persist into adulthood, and can also be associated with depression/anxiety disorders, and self-esteem issues.
Types of ADHD
ADHD Inattentive is often what’s meant when someone uses the term Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). However, the full definition of ADHD is much broader, frequently classified under the following three categories:
ADHD-inattentive, ADHD-hyperactive-impulsive, ADHD combined type.
People experiencing ADHD-Inattentive type often exhibit a range of behaviours and symptoms that include being easily distracted, forgetfulness, inability to pay attention in school or at work, making careless mistakes, inability to follow instructions, trouble finishing tasks and chores, avoidance of tasks that require long periods of mental effort – but they don’t exhibit signs of hyperactivity.
People with ADHD Combined type may also display symptoms of ADHD Inattentive.
Other attention vulnerabilities
Reading the aforementioned list of behaviours, most people would be able to identify with a number of the symptoms of ADHD Inattentive. For instance, we’re all forgetful to a degree at one time or another, and few of us enjoy painting the house or sitting in a meeting where the subject matter has our eyes glazing over with boredom!
Often, however, the root causes for these drops in attention aren’t chronic medical issues. Factors that we can control (diet, lifestyle and our sleep habits) and those we might struggle to control (emotional and family pressures) all affect our ability to pay attention, be present (focus) and concentrate on what’s happening around us from time to time. The same goes for children.
There may be some more complex medical and psychological issues at play that inhibit a person’s ability to concentrate and pay attention for extended periods of time. These might include people experiencing acute anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol misuse.
Attention diffciulties are also common in neurodevelopmental conditions such as Autism (ASD), and any number of personality disorders or generalised learning disabilities including dyslexia and dysgraphia (the production of written language/expression).
As soon as attention vulnerabilities are mentioned, most people immediately think of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD, yet attention is a far more complex issue that can be affected by a number of factors. And some of those factors could be overcome with some cognitive and behavioural training.
As our knowledge and understanding of ADHD and attention vulnerabilities evolves, so too do ways in which we detect and treat children and adults dealing with attention-related learning issues. A range of psychometric and cognitive testing is being developed, which enables science to make sure that we can bring out the best in a person’s learning abilities and maximise their ability to live out a full, enriching and productive life, making the most of the skills and talents they already possess.
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