Support for PBS Parents provided by:

  • Arthur
  • Cat in the Hat
  • Curious George
  • Daniel Tiger
  • Dinosaur Train
  • Let's Go Luna
  • Nature Cat
  • Odd Squad
  • Peg + Cat
  • Pinkalicous and Peterriffic
  • Ready Jet Go
  • Splash and Bubbles
  • Super Why!
  • Wild Kratts
  • Sesame Street
  • Ruff Ruffman Show
  • Mister Rogers
  • Cyberchase
  • SciGirls
  • Sid the Science Kid
  • Martha Speaks
  • The Electric Company
  • WordGirl
  • Caillou
  • Oh Noah
  • Fizzy's Lunch Lab
  • Maya & Miguel
  • Postcards from Buster
  • Clifford
  • WordWorld
  • DragonFly TV
  • ZOOM


Learning Disabilities

Signs of ADHD and Other Attention Disabilities

siblings doing homeworkAlthough everyone exhibits inattention at various times, medical experts have come up with a set of criteria used to identify the patterns of behavior that constitute Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). According to the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition” (DSM-IV), a reference published by the American Psychiatric Association, the three patterns of behavior that indicate ADHD are inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity (difficulty controlling one’s actions).

Signs of inattention as outlined in the DSM-IV include:

  • becoming easily distracted by irrelevant sights and sounds
  • failing to pay attention to details and making careless mistakes
  • rarely following instructions carefully and completely
  • losing or forgetting things like toys or pencils, books, and tools needed for a task
  • Signs of hyperactivity and impulsivity are:

  • restlessness, fidgeting with hands or feet, or squirming
  • running, climbing, or leaving a seat in situations in which sitting or quiet behavior is expected
  • blurting out answers before hearing the whole question
  • exhibiting difficulty waiting in line or for a turn
  • “Attention deficit” is a common explanation for learning difficulties, but it may also be one of the most common misdiagnoses. Although it is important for teachers and schools to be aware of the signs of ADHD, focusing primarily on attention deficit may cause educators to overlook other learning problems. Dr. David Urion, Director of Neurology and Learning Disabilities at Children’s Hospital in Boston, suggests that parents and teachers look for behavioral inconsistencies. If any of the behaviors listed above occur inconsistently or only within the context of a particular subject area, they may indicate a more specific learning problem. When a child struggles to read, for example, it may be very difficult for him or her to concentrate and stay focused because a neurological breakdown exists that hinders their decoding ability.

    In addition to the diagnostic criteria listed above, the DSM-IV also contains very specific guidelines for determining when these criteria indicate ADHD. The behaviors must appear early in life (before age 7), continue for at least six months, and be more frequent or severe than those exhibited by others of the same age. Most importantly, the behaviors must create a significant handicap in at least two settings, such as in school, at home, at work, or in social settings. A child who has some attention problems but whose schoolwork and friendships are not impaired by these behaviors, or who seems overly active at school but functions well elsewhere, would not be diagnosed with ADHD.

    Many times attention problems come to light in the context of a child’s schoolwork. For this reason, educational experts recommend that parents and teachers be aware of warning signs that may indicate attentional difficulties. The following is a list of those early warning signs, as outlined by Dr. Mel Levine in his book “Developmental Variation and Learning Disorders.”

    A child struggling to appropriately process and organize information because of attention difficulties may:

  • process too little or too much information and not be able to distinguish between what is important and what isn’t
  • focus too superficially or too deeply on information presented
  • have difficulty connecting new information with information already known
  • only pay attention to exciting information or during highly stimulating activities
  • focus for too brief a period
  • have problems shifting focus from one subject or activity to another
  • Production
    A child who struggles to organize and produce schoolwork because of an attention or problem may:

  • fail to foresee the outcome of a task or activity
  • have difficulty coming up with the right strategy or technique to accomplish a task
  • not monitor the quality of his or her work or the effectiveness of strategies used
  • not use past successes and failures to guide current behavior, actions, or strategies
  • be apt to do too many things too quickly or other things too slowly
  • have a poor sense of time and how to manage it
  • Mental Energy
    A student who is unable to maintain the mental energy required to stay focused and be productive may:

  • have difficulty concentrating and may complain of feeling tired or bored
  • not seem to be well rested and fully awake during the day
  • have inconsistent work patterns that negatively impact quality and quantity of work
  • be overactive and fidgety, especially when sitting and listening
  • Back to Attention and ADHD Home

    What's this?

    Sign up for free newsletters.

    Connect with Us

    PBS Parents Picks

    1. Wild Kratts image

      Wild Kratts App Teaches Young Children How to Care for Animals

      In this app, kids are charge of feeding, washing, and playing with baby animals.

    2. Curious Kids image

      How (And Why) To Encourage Curiosity

      "...when people are curious about something, they learn more, and better."

    3. Gardening Benefits image

      The Benefits of Gardening With Kids

      Don’t let the idea overwhelm you. A few containers and soil in a sunny spot will do.