Mama Drama: Attention Anxiety – Is it ADHD?
posted by: Lisa Vratny-Smith
Dear Mama Drama:
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?
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 Lisa@milehighmamas.com, 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.