Although 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:
Signs of hyperactivity and impulsivity are:
“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:
A child who struggles to organize and produce schoolwork because of an attention or problem may:
A student who is unable to maintain the mental energy required to stay focused and be productive may: