The school environment presents an extreme challenge to anyone who struggles with attention. Students must focus intently on a teacher’s words while filtering out the dynamics among 20 or more classmates — private conversations, dropped pencils, fidgeting, note-passing, and countless other distractions within and outside the classroom. They must then sort through the information they hear, organize and prioritize their thoughts, plan their responses, and perform the work assigned to them. Those with chronic attention problems describe their world as a cacophony of distractions, with no sound, image, or idea necessarily more important than any other.
Descriptions like these illustrate yet only hint at the negative impact an attention problem and its resultant organizational difficulties can have on a child’s ability to make it through the daily life of school and his or her life-long potential for success. According to many experts, these types of disorders, which often begin in early childhood, typically persist well into adolescence and adulthood, turning a child’s daily struggles into a lifetime of feeling left behind.
Several studies have suggested that children with attention problems run a greater risk of developing many other behavioral and social problems. One such study found that adolescents with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), one of the most common attention disorders, “completed less formal schooling, achieved lower grades, failed more courses and were more often expelled” than those without the disorder. Other long-term studies connect ADHD with an increased risk of substance abuse and criminal behavior when the disorder is left untreated with either behavioral or medication therapy or both.