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Women's Health: Postpartum Community
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118225 tn?1278658540

How do you know when your child has an attention disorder?

I have been struggling with this for some time.  I really think my 7(almost 8) year old son might have an attention disorder.  Its not that he acts crazy or overly hyper, its his memory and other things that are of concern.  The biggest complaint his teacher has is that he tunes her out, seems to not pay attention....he is always getting into trouble for doing things the teacher had just told him not to do.  Today he came home on warning because his teacher told him not to lean, and then he started doing it again.  He doesn't disobey to be defiant.  Its like he actually forgets, and that's the way he is at home too.  We constantly have to tell him the same things over and over.  He will seem like he understands something like math, and then the next time he does it he needs help again.  His handwriting is atrocious no matter how much he practices, its like he is always rushing to get through it.  I dunno....I made him an appointment today for the Dr, because I feel like his school life is suffering because he is always behind on the work and he doesn't pay attention to what is going on.  If anyone has any advice I would really appreciate it.  Also, on a side note, he mentioned to me that he sees/writes letters backwards and he also is on medication for migraines.
15 Responses
Avatar universal
Sometimes learning difficulties can be attributed to what "seems" like an attention deficit disorder, when the root of the problem is actually that the child is having difficulty processing oral and written commands and accessing written print (as well as printing it). It is good that you are getting it checked out. The other thing is too, his medication might have some side effects that you want to discuss with your doctor. I will tell you too, though, that sometimes this behavior to some extent is normal for 7-8 year old little boys- they are eager to be "hands on" and less eager to want to sit still and do seat work. Make sure that whatever expectations are set for him are developmentally appropriate- it sounds like leaning is just a thing kids do. While it is also possible too that he has dyslexia, you won't really be able to fully assess that without proper testing through your school district..plus, they usually wait a bit until they are slightly older. Fine motor skills are hard for a lot of boys too--so don't stress over this too much. Just set small goals for him and reward him (with encouragement or even a sticker) when he accomplishes it and get the school on board with whatever goals and plans you have for him..they should be your partner in it. I hope that helps. I've seen this a lot (I am a teacher).
118225 tn?1278658540
Thank you for your answer....I am just confused about the "testing" part of it though.....his teacher said that I should take him to his pediatrician, which I am, but I always thought it was the school that had a part in this type of testing.  How does it work where you teach?  And will any testing be able to pinpoint the difficulty in processing that you mentioned?
Avatar universal
Ziggy, let us know what the dr said.  I'm interested in finding out.  To me, it sounds like there is some learning disability going on.  Hmm, backwards letters...dyslexia??
203342 tn?1328740807
The teachers usually fill out a paper showing their concerns and what's going on and the doctor will review that and determine whether the child may have ADHD or ADD based on what the teachers say and how he acts at home.

There's some other things you may want to consider besides ADD, though. My daughter was diagnosed with APD (Auditory Processing Disorder) about 5 years ago and now they think my 4 year old may have this too. It greatly mimics ADD so much that many parents put their kids on Ritalin thinking they have ADD when they actually have APD. Auditory Processing Disorder is when they don't process everything they hear correctly. They would pass a normal hearing test because it's not their hearing that's affected. It's the processing part of the brain. So, if you were to say to them "I pound with a hammer, I cut with a saw" they may hear "A pound of ham and a cup of sauce" or something like that. I'm just giving you an example. They get the information jumbled up. Kids with APD will do better with written instructions than oral instructions.
My daughter also had a terrible time blocking out other noises and distractions so that she can concentrate. Another symptom of both APD and ADD.

There are things that can help. First, get him tested by an audiologist. It's more than the normal hearing test. This is a pretty intensive test and takes a couple of hours. If they do believe he has APD there are things that can help. My 4 year old is going to a speech and OT clinic right now for extra help and they offer a program called "The Listening Program". So far insurances aren't paying for this but it's not too expensive but it is time consuming. My son will have to go every day to the clinic for a half hour for 20 weeks and listen to these audio tapes. They help him filter out noises, etc. I've heard it's a good program and has done wonders with lots of kids. See if you have anything like that where you live.

Even if he did have ADD he's still young enough to be able to train his brain to overcome and compensate for the lack of attention, etc. They use the same type of training for ADD kids and APD kids.

That's a start, anyway. Check into all that and see where that takes you. He's young enough that you can work with him. We didn't catch this with my daughter till she was 11 and has always struggled with school. She does have an IEP now and I'm considering even having her listen to the Listening Program, if she will. She's 17 now and has learned to compensate and overcome a lot but still has trouble with attention.

I'm glad you're doing something about it now. It's harder once they get older. Let us know how things go and what you find out.
Best wishes.
Avatar universal
Yes, it is also true (at least in our area) that a parent should take their child to a pediatrician first (to rule out other things) before testing, however (where we live), a parent can advocate on behalf of their child and ask for a special needs committee to look into the concerns and/or to ask for specific testing to take place..but every county would be different. I would try and become well-versed on what the route is in your area. And, yes, there are very good tests now that would pinpoint processing delays or other learning delays/difficulties. The ped is the way to go first and if your ped thinks there are concerns too, you can bring this to the school (gives more weight to your concerns). However, I wouldn't stop at just the ped if you really think there are problems, you are the one that sees him at home too and can provide the school with that information.
You should also let your ped know when the problems first started and when the teachers also first noted it, if your child hit their developmental milestones when he was supposed to and if there has been any change in your household (i.e. a move to a new home, a new sibling, a divorce, etc.). This, along with whatever methods have been used to far, will also help. It is interesting too that he is on medication for migraines...that could mean all sorts of things (brain wise) as to what is going on, why he might be distracted, sleepy, inattentive..you can also ask your doc for a brain scan too if they are concerned about that at all.
From what you describe, it sounds like his problems are not just situational (they appear in all aspects of his life both at school and at home) and this would be something that the school and ped should know. If he does end up having ADD or ADHD or LD, there are so many things for kids to help them- including visual clues, very rigid routines that they can follow and feel safe in, technology/devices and special education resource help. It's good you are looking into things now.
690039 tn?1277476022
Ziggy - this sounds like what I just went through with my own son (7 yrs old).  I resisted for a long time (and we REALLY struggled for a long time), and I finally caved and said ok, we have to at least *explore* the possibility of ADD... I was convinced he did not have the "H" part ;-)

At the risk of being long-winded, this is what happened for us:  

The doc gave me two two-page questionnaires that were almost identical.  One for me, one for his teacher.  I filled mine out, got the one back from her, and went back to the doc... I had researched the questionnaire scoring to get an idea of what to expect (obviously only on mine).  When I got hers back they came back pretty similar.  

Based on the results, he was textbook ADHD... i learned that the H didn't mean he was hyper and wild all the time... It was little things like fidgeting, rocking back and forth when we talked to him and he'd "zone out", and falling out of his chair when he was supposed to be sitting still and eating or doing an activity.  The doc put it to me a good way----does he "sit" like he's not going anywhere for a while, or does he "sit" like he's got 10 other things he wants to do and is only there for a sec to take a bite and dash off?

He was also borderline depressed (it looks for that too), but the doc said it is likely because of the adhd and his inability to cope with it (and the stress it causes because he's always in trouble).  I have to say I still resisted a bit, and was skeptical of the diagnosis, but for the sake of my son, I had to give it a chance.  

He put my son on Vyvanse, and while I'm not thrilled with the mild side effects, i was absolutely BLOWN STRAIGHT OFF MY ROCKER by the amazing difference in my son.  Like you said, he was never bad or defiant or malicious... just couldn't obey and listen and remember what he'd just been corrected about.  It was horrible.  The final straw was when the school threatened suspension (he was constantly sent to the principal's office, don't get me started though on how screwed up i think that is!!).

It has not solved all our problems, and i'm not parenting an angel now, but the very first day he was on the med, i could see in his eyes for the first time in his life that he was hearing AND processing every word I said to him... I was and am truly blown away.  He's been on the meds for about a month, and has come home with a Green every single solitary day since he's been on it (his school uses the Green/Yellow/Red system), where before the meds he tried SO hard to get a green, it was like his highest goal in life, but would pull it off maybe one day every one or two weeks if we were lucky.  His report card (only 3 weeks after starting the meds) was gushing with praise.  It hasn't just "controlled his behavior", but has allowed him to flourish, allowed him to show his talents where before they were clouded by the behavior.  His creativity has astounded her, she said she's never seen anything like it.  He's well above grade level in everything.  He had been tested for the gifted program a few weeks before starting the meds and tested just a few points shy of qualifying---now they are talking about testing him again.  

Now others are getting to see the amazing little boy i knew all along that he is.  And it's removing roadblocks to his success.  His social interaction is improving too.  As kids get older, the behaviors that bug the teachers start bugging the students too---and I was even more concerned about that than I was the teachers.  I didn't want him alienated.  This has already started helping that.  

Anyway, I don't mean to ramble (i have ADD too, lol), but it's a very simple and logical process so I encourage you to pursue it, and not be afraid to explore the possibility.  If it's not, they'll tell you.  If it is but you have reservations, then don't pursue the treatment.  You're in complete control.  

One word of caution, I found out that the school wants a copy for my son's file of every testing type thing or whatever that his teacher fills out, it's their policy (public school).  I wasn't comfortable with this, so i kinda didn't quite comply----i had to fill out a form, like this "Request for testing" or information or something, I forget what the name of the form was, but I left the doctor part blank---they tried to insist that I fill it out (sent it home with my son twice) so they could mail theirs to the doc themselves, but that just made me uneasy, and i didn't want them obtaining results or something, because i don't think it's their business.  so i just wrote her back saying to please send the copy home with my son since our doc appt is that evening and i had to pay to cancel, etc... So she sent it home.  I just never sent the form back in.

Anyway, I've rambled enough.  I hope this helps you to be more comfortable with the process.  I recommend it just to know, or rule it out, or whatever.  We also discussed the possibility of Sensory Processing issues, but right now the success we're seeing on just adhd treatment more than enough.  Sometimes, though, add/adhd can be the manifestation of sensory processing issues.  

Let us know what you decide to do and how it goes :-)
118225 tn?1278658540
Thanks for the info everyone...

Waitingwithhope- I am going to email my sons teacher now and ask her to give me a detailed list of all the problems she sees in my son.  The only thing that stinks is his appointment is on the 27th, and school here gets out on May 22nd........he has had a CT scan before, but it showed nothing(thank God)

April - What your saying sounds interesting, but the part that bothers me then even when I am giving my son detailed instruction or speaking to him, he hears exactly what I say.  I will ask him to repeat to me what I have said and he can tell me word for word, that makes his problems even more frustrating.

jessbbg - wow, thank you for sharing this story with me.  Reading it actually brought tears to my eyes that things for him could be better.  What you have described sounds exactly like my son.  I do think my son has other psychological issues going on as well.  I am considering taking him to a counselor.  I Sometimes he dwells on things, like my parents dying (they aren't dead or ill)....he will actually think about it and cry...I don't know if that's normal or not..
884037 tn?1241332732
sounds like ADD. thats what i have and i had that problem in school too. i was constantly day-dreaming. i had to start sitting in the front of the class so that the people in front of me didnt distract me.
203342 tn?1328740807
If he can repeat back your instructions word for word then it doesn't sound like APD. It may very well be ADD or ADHD. I hope you find out something soon!
690039 tn?1277476022
ziggy---that sounds totally normal. all kids come into awareness about death, and they have to take some time to cope with and process it.  it's a part of growing up, and it's actually a good sign.  he is realizing that there are life cycles, and that people die (important so that he understands what getting run over by a car means!!), it's an important foundational development for him.  don't worry about it.  my son did the same thing, about a year ago, it seemed like he would talk about it every day, and half the time he'd end up crying about it, thinking i was going to die or his dad or his grandparents, etc... it's not fun, but they have to develop that awareness in order to mature---otherwise, he will not develop a healthy sense of fear of death (for self-preservation) nor will he be able to develop the more complex levels of relationship value---i.e. "grandma won't be around forever, someday she will be gone, i need to love her and show her that love now while i have the chance"

i wanted to say something too about what you said to April---that he hears what you are saying and is repeating it.  That is common too, my son was able to do that, but it doesn't mean his conscious mind is connecting with what he's hearing.  At first, my son couldn't do that, and i would get so mad---"honey, you're looking right at me, how can you not hear me or know what i said??" lol  so he learned to be able to recite it back.  but it still wasn't connecting----so i think i know exactly what you mean.  that's why it was so powerful when i spoke to him at the end of that first day and I saw it in his eyes, i *knew* he was really truly hearing me, and processing every word i was saying to him.  for the first time he was fully engaged in what i was saying to him.  it took my breath away!  

anyway, i would say based on what you've said that maybe taking him to a counselor is a little premature---i really found a lot of merit in what our doc said about taking it in baby steps, especially with children.  You don't want to pile on all manner of treatments and interventions... the child can easily get lost in the maze, and it can cloud the issue.  just take it one step at a time.  i'm finding that just getting the attention issue under control is enough to enable us to work through some other issues all on our own.  :-)
883151 tn?1245518109
Hey, my son has the same problem. He is only four but I was told by his doctor that he may have a learning disability. Children with learning disabilities often tend to act  as if they forget everything. I pay close attention to the way my son is because the doctor is still trying to figure out if what he has is a form of autism or ADHD. I actually document everything so I can let the doctor know about his behaviors. Watching him so closely I have some to find that he seems to not listen or acts like he forgot so he doesn't feel bad that he's having trouble. The reason for this is because he does things with no problem on his own but when given the instructions to do the same activity he acts like he doesn't remember the instructions or won't even listen to the instructions. So actually what I'm trying to get at is that it could possibly be a learning disability instead of an attention disorder. If the school has concern about his behavior they can do an evaluation to see what's going on. My son's doctor advised me to get an evaluation done on my son but haven't yet. The only way to tell what is going on is an evaluation or counciling. That's probably what your doctor will tell you too. Your doctor will be able to give you a list of places that do evaluations and testing times though. Good luck to you with your son.
883151 tn?1245518109
I have one thing to add. The way you can tell if it's an attention disorder is to see how well he rememders things of interest to him. Also, have him watch a tv show or movie. If he can sit and watch a tv show he really likes especially if he can then tell you what happened in the show it's most likely not an attention disorder. My mom taught me that trick when we first noticed something was going on with Aries. He does sometimes run around and forget about the show but he is still only four. He can remember things he just saw on his favorite shows and If he turns away and I turn the channel he comes right back to it and wants it turned back. Someone with an attention disorder wouldn't realise the channel had been changed. They would have already turned their attention to something else. Kids with attention disorders get bored really easily and can't keep attention on one thing for more than a couple minutes before getting bored and searching for something else.
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