The term “attention deficit” is within the diagnosis name itself. But, is an ADHD child really "attention deficit?" The answer is NO WAY!! Their minds are actually too attentive. Ideas and thoughts run through their minds at a much higher rate than people without ADHD. Sounds, sensations and sights can flow into an ADHD child’s mind all at once like there is no gate keeper. They are ultra-focused to everything going on around them. Unfortunately, this is overwhelming and leads to problems getting their mind to focus on what they need or should be paying attention to. Just saying kids with ADHD are “inattentive” or "attention deficit" doesn’t explain what's really going on. Kids with ADHD are way too attentive, not “attention deficit.” This is a very different and more accurate way of understanding ADHD.
There is a biological source of ADHD that originates in the front part of the brain (pre-frontal cortex), which is in charge of regulating, organizing and controlling what we choose to focus on, how we choose to behave, and even plays a part in how we respond emotionally. This part of an ADHD child’s brain has less neurotransmitter activity (norepinephrine and dopamine) than in children without ADHD. It is important to note that ADHD does not affect an individual's intelligence. In fact, many believe Albert Einstein had ADHD.
Parents and teachers often get confused in that just because their child can focus so well on a specific activity, they must not have ADHD. A parent may say, “My child can focus and play video games for hours with no issues,” or, “My child is so organized and responsible with his Pokemon cards.” It’s a good point, because when the child is engaged in an activity that is interesting and/or stimulating, they usually don’t show any signs of ADHD. Even a hyperactive ADHD child may sit perfectly still during a movie they enjoy. But that same child might rotate in an upside-down position in their chair when you try to do math flashcards to help them study for a test.
A good gauge of whether or not a child has ADHD is to ask, “How do they do when the activity is boring or not as stimulating?” Sure, we all have problems with boring tasks, but people without ADHD can say to themselves, “This is boring, but I’ll push through it and get it done,” and end up completing the task. They can make themselves do it. In contrast, an ADHD child may have the same thoughts and good intentions of getting it done, but have serious problems regulating themselves well enough to efficiently complete the task.
Completing a task from start to finish (without missing a step) is a challenge for children with ADHD. Here are some examples:
Remember, ADHD has nothing to do with how smart a person is. However, children with ADHD tend to struggle with learning. These learning challenges may be related to not being able to focus on what is being taught, or they can come from issues with processing information slowly, or issues with short-term memory. Kids with ADHD may also have associated learning disorders like dyslexia or dysgraphia. If your child has ADHD, it is always important to rule out learning disabilities.
Think of the front part of the brain as a coffee filter (remember, this front part of the brain is where the ADHD physically resides). The coffee filter blocks the grounds and allows the water to pass through. Using this example, the “filter” of an ADHD child doesn't work as well as it should and there are more problems regulating what behaviors and emotions “come out." Because of this, the teacher or parent often has to act as the filter for that child to help them regulate. The adults have to make comments like, “Stop doing that and start your work,” or “I can’t understand you, slow down,” or “Stop swinging from the curtains.” This constant need to help regulate will cause frustration for those working with the child and the ADHD child themselves.
The internal thoughts of ADHD kids often travel fast. This can result in them talking fast, to match their quick thinking. They may rapidly have multiple ideas that run through their mind, making them jump subject to subject. Sometimes they may even start a conversation with you "mid-subject", leaving you to say, "wait... what are you talking about?"
The ADHD child may start defying or arguing with his parents or teachers on a regular basis. This can happen with ADHD children because they are continually frustrated with an adult’s frequent prompting and being told what to do or what not to do. Throughout their life they have heard, “Don’t put your milk cup so close to the edge of the table,” or “You forgot this.” They may start to push back, insisting to do things their own way in order to preserve their dignity or simply because their way is much faster. This defiance can also happen with their friends or peers. Even in play or fun situations, they may want to do things their way too often and argue when it doesn’t go their way. This can create conflicts in friendships or end friendships all together. And remember, kids with ADHD thrive on being stimulated. So, although arguing can be frustrating, it is a form of mental stimulation and an ADHD child may find arguing more stimulating than doing the work you request.
Tell an ADHD child who loves watching TV to stop their homework, go turn on the TV, turn the channel to their favorite show, and watch it for an hour, and they will probably do every step you requested without a fight. That’s the result of high interest. Tell an ADHD child to turn off their favorite show, start their homework (that they don’t like) and turn it in to their teacher tomorrow, and there is usually great resistance. Sure, almost every kid has this problem to a degree. But, shifting from fun to “not as fun” is a major problem for ADHD kids and one of the most challenging interactions for parents and teachers. Here are some examples:
ADHD children are experts at turning boring times into more interesting times. An ADHD child may take “boring spelling” and turn it into “more fun spelling” by talking or joking with friends, tipping in their chair or drawing instead of working. Have you ever wondered why your ADHD child or student seems to create a little chaos or disruption exactly at the time they are supposed to be quiet? Children with ADHD find ways to be entertained when bored, which often gets them in trouble. Usually they are not aware of how disruptive they are to others in class or at home. Interestingly, they can become frustrated when others are making noises or causing disturbances, even when they were doing the same thing. ADHD kids may also take more dangerous risks. They may climb too high on playground equipment, or as teenagers drive too fast in their car. The risk adds stimulation and excitement which is something ADHD kids thrive on.
Sometimes in their effort to evade an assignment they are willing to trade a really boring task for a less boring task. An ADHD child may suddenly decide cleaning the cat’s litter box or wiping down the kitchen counters is better than starting the long science project they have been putting off. Getting sidetracked is often not on purpose. Their mind easily branches off to more interesting subjects and activities.
ADHD kids often think they have much more time to get a task done than they actually have. They may think a project will take 1 hour, when in fact it takes 3 hours. This can lead to work being rushed or work not getting completed on time. This is stressful for the parent, but also stressful for the child.
People with ADHD have a hard time seeing multiple steps in a task and tend to see them as just one big chunk of work, which results in them feeling overwhelmed. They may need help breaking down the steps, or at least be reminded, “Hey, this isn’t done all at once… it’s one step at a time.”
Some things you request (like taking out the trash) seem so simple and you may wonder why your child is making such a big deal of something that takes less than a minute. For ADHD kids, boring tasks seem to “last forever,” or at least take too long, which keeps them away from the interesting things they would rather be doing.
Planning or thinking ahead is boring for ADHD kids. They would rather "just do it" than “plan on doing it.” Let's use grocery shopping as an example. A person that is good at planning ahead will make a detailed list of what items they need and write those items according to where they are in that store. A person with ADHD may just go to the store without the list and will zig-zag from one end of the store to the other. Because of the lack of planning, grocery shopping took twice as long. Planning takes time and ADHD kids would rather just go for it. This is why convincing an ADHD child to use a planner is usually met with a ton of resistance. It’s worth noting that there are times when an ADHD child loves planning and can even be overly detailed in their planning. The only time this usually happens is when they are planning for something fun, like getting ready for a birthday party or a camping trip.
Imagine watching a two hour movie that you didn’t like (you have one in mind I’m sure). When the movie was over, you may have been a little angry it wasted your time. Now, imagine that you are required to watch that same movie again the next day or your parents will ground you. Oh, the agony of being forced to watch it again! This is how it feels to be an ADHD child and having to do redo something like chores or an assignment. Even having to make revisions to papers or corrections on tests can be a huge challenge. The first time was enough, but doing it again? NEVER!
They may believe they already know what you are going to say. They may say “I know, I know, I know,” before you are done. If you don’t get to the point, they may get to the point for you. They don't like long lectures for sure! They may start a task like chores or homework without waiting to hear all the details of what need to be done. This results in tasks being done incorrectly.
ADHD kids experience higher levels of frustration when forced to wait. They are much more motivated for instant, smaller rewards than waiting for long term, bigger rewards. They may have problems saving their money, waiting patiently in line, waiting their turn in a fun activity or doing their work before playing. Sure, this is true for most kids, but is a much more significant problem for kids with ADHD.
ADHD kids are notorious for saying, “I’ll do it later,” only to never get it done. Often they really do have good intentions to get the task finished later, but if it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. An analogy of putting things off is to imagine a boy sitting on a railroad track. We say to him, “Hey, you should get off the track because we know a train is coming in 10 minutes.” The child continues to sit there, even as he sees the train coming. Only as the train approaches to about 30 yards away does he finally stand up and get off the track. Why didn’t he just get off the track when we told him? Well, in this analogy, the boy felt he didn't really need to move right away. He was only motivated to move when he knew he had no other choice but to move. Until then, he could do other more interesting things like text his friends. Kids with ADHD often find themselves motivated to work only at times of "it's now or never" or "it's now or I'm in trouble."