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Children / fatherhood / Mama Drama / Motherhood / School / Special Needs

Mama Drama: Attention Anxiety – Is it ADHD?

Dear Mama Drama:

(photo credit)

My seven-year-old daughter is struggling in school. Her teachers say she daydreams and is off in her own world so she doesn’t get her work done. At home she also needs lots of reminders and support to get things done. Someone suggested that she may have attention deficit disorder, but I’m not sure what that means. I’ve seen kids who are very hyper and have trouble sitting still, but this doesn’t fit my daughter. While she needs help getting ready for school and keeping track of her things, she can also sit and draw or read for hours. Other people have suggested she might need medication, which seems really scary to me.

Can you give me some insight and ideas for how to support her?

~Anxious Mama

Dear Anxious:

Attention concerns can be related to a variety of different issues, such as health problems, development, sensory processing needs, or neurological needs related to brain function. In order to help your daughter be successful in school it will be important to figure out what might be interfering with her functioning and provide the supports she needs.

The label of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and talk about medication can seem scary for parents. In reality the label is a way to categorize the symptoms a child is experiencing and guide development of effective supports. There are many strategies to help with attention needs and one of those is medication. Not every child with attention issues needs medication, but they do all need strategies to help them stay on task, organize themselves, and function more effectively. Some children with attention concerns also have hyperactivity issues, but not all. Additionally, most can focus or settle down for high interest or novel activities in contrast to everyday tasks that do not hold their interest.

Contacting your pediatrician and discussing your concerns is the first step.  He or she can rule out any medical issues that could be causing your daughter’s symptoms. Then, depending on the other issues she may be experiencing, your pediatrician may recommend a full developmental screening, a sensory processing assessment, or testing related to attention or learning disabilities.

Schedule a meeting at school with your daughter’s teachers and ask for the mental health professional (social worker or psychologist) and a special education teacher to attend as well. They can help answer your questions about Attention Deficit Disorder (as can your pediatrician), help to develop strategies in the classroom, and determine if a Response to Intervention plan or special education evaluation is needed. Even before any diagnosis has been made, classroom supports and interventions can be implemented to help her be more successful.

At home you can support your daughter by

  • having a regular schedule and routine
  • building in extra time for her to complete tasks
  • creating a visual schedule
  • breaking tasks into smaller steps
  • Using a timer to help her keep track of time
  • scheduling motivating activities after mundane ones to help interest her and get her brain engaged
  • limiting the number of directions you give her to one or two at a time
  • recognizing her effort whether she succeeds in completing the task or not
  • staying nearby to support her and help keep her on track
  • practicing patience and being understanding when she struggles

It is important for both parents and teachers to remember that children with attention struggles are not lazy, manipulative, or lacking in motivation. They are doing the best they can and need our support to learn the skills and strategies to achieve their goals.

A great resource for more ideas to support your daughter at home is Smart, but Scattered by Peg Dawson. It explains executive functioning skills – the ones impacted by attention difficulties – and provides explicit strategies to work with specific skill needs. Additionally, The Survival Guide for Kids with ADD or ADHD by John F. Taylor is a kid friendly book you can read with your child. Dr. Taylor defines ADD/ADHD and strategies to handle the wide range of related issues.

Please share strategies you use to help your children improve concentration and complete tasks.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential. Read more of Lisa’s parenting perspective at her Laughing Yoga Mama blog.


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  1. Ohhhh good advice. I’m forwarding this to my friend who recently had the same question!

  2. My son, who is a sixth grader, has been experienceing much of what you are describing. He was inattentive, forgetful, disorganized. He had had these issues for years, but they really came to a head when he entered middle school and had more responsibilities for his day-to-day learning.

    The school was very willing to talk with me and work with me, but please know that they were also very quick to identify him with ADHD (he also lacked the hyperactive component — not sitting still was not a problem) I knew from my work with people with disabilities that ADHD can only be accurately diagnosed if other conditions are first ruled out (depression, dyslexia, etc.) so I asked for a full “educational assessment.” In addition to the ADHD assessment (which is based on observations by family, teachers, other adults in the child’s life and the child herself), I asked for cognitive testing (an IQ test) and an accupational therapy assessment.A speech assessment is usually part of the educational assessment, but in my son’s case, I didn’t see a need.

    The school pushed back a little bit, but did agree and completed all the testing within the 60 day timeline required. I am so glad I asked for the additional testing, for my son was diagnosed, not with ADHD, but with non-verbal learning disorder. In non-verbal learning disorder, a person’s verbal IQ is significantly higher than their performance IQ, which means that what they can understand in their heads is not reflected in what they can demonstrate in the classroom. Some of the features include disorganization, difficulty following directions, difficulty understand written instructions, poor handwriting, difficulty with writing conventions like punctuation, and pronounced difficulty in math skills.

    We are just now beginning the intervention he needs to be able to be more successful at school. I would strongly recommend that you speak with the school and ask for not just an ADHD assessment, but a full educational assessment so that other things can be ruled out.

    Good luck!

    • Gwen, thank you so much for sharing your story. Digging deeper can make a big difference in figuring out how best to help and support our kids.

    • We had a similar experience with our son. He was first diagnosed with ADHD after a 15 minute appointment with a specialist who also told me I had it!

      We went through three years of hell before we found a way to help our child by working through his diet and changing his school. changing his school was a huge decision but it was the best one. The head teacher at his old school had decided he was like Damian from the Omen and would never give him a chance. With the result he got into trouble for things that happened, even when he wasnt at school one day as was out sick.

      The new school has been wonderful. They just accepted him from day one – no history so he had a chance to be himself. He has acted out a few times but nothing compared to the last school. Everyone who meets him comments on how much happier he is.

      My son is nothing like the child he was at four (what child is – lack of maturity is often misdiagnosed as ADHD). We tried the meds and he had such severe reactions they thought he was having a seizure.

      I have written our story – Its usually $2.99 on amazon but is available free today (May 2nd)that outlines our journey. It has proved helpful to others – maybe it will prove helpful to your readers too 🙂

      Regardless of whether you read the book or not, always always trust your own instincts. You know your child better than ANYONE else even if they do have an alphabet of letters after their name 🙂

      • Thank you for sharing your story, Sarah, and making your book available for free today! It makes such a big difference when we don’t feel alone as parents.

  3. My pleasure Lisa. We had a horrendous time as a family but we came through it and if my book helps others to know they are not alone, that would be fantastic. 🙂

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