5 Common Reasons for Lack of Concentration and Focus
and It Might Not be ADHD
As a counselor with experience in mental health and school counseling, there have been many times a child has been misdiagnosed with ADHD. In the mental health setting we could change the diagnosis and work with the child and family without medication and see big changes and differences. Interventions and therapies that work are the key. We could agree that the problem, or a symptom, was lack of concentration and focus, but it was not always ADHD. Why is misdiagnosis a concern? ADHD is a mental health disorder and the diagnosis should come only after carefully ruling out causes for lack of concentration because of medication, stressors, functioning and family concerns.
1. Lack of sleep: Today, many children and teens do not get the proper amounts of sleep. Children need at least ten hours each night and growing teens need nine to ten hours each night as well. Schedules may be over-packed with activities, sports, lessons, clubs, and homework. All of this is fine as long as it fits into a schedule that allows for some down time, relationships, relaxation and the proper amount of sleep. Children can find it hard to concentration and focus in the classroom when they are sleepy or too tired to concentrate. Getting the proper amounts of sleep help a child to do better in school.
2. Family Stress and Overstretched Caregivers: Families are stressed out today. Parents are taking care of their parents besides their own children. Parents may have a child in the home who is critically ill or disabled and they require trips to the hospital, doctor visits and extra care at home. Sometimes the child will have to help at home with the care of a grandparent or sibling.
3. Arguments in the home: Some families have communication issues or financial burdens and these problems can cause concern for the children in the home. If the parents talk about their problems with their children, without considering boundaries, the child can be overwhelmed. This can cause lack of concentration and focus at school. The child is worried or upset and may experience anxiety. Some arguments can be caused because of dysfunction in the home such as alcoholism, drug use, or domestic violence.
4. Poor nutrition: Quick and easy is the way to eat meals when we are busy. Children need vitamins and healthy choices for meals. Today, many parents instill a low fat diet in the home, but this can cause some problems with young children. The brain requires fat and muscles need protein. A good breakfast looks like eggs, sausage or bacon, toast with butter, and whole milk. Little children and elementary aged children need the fat in their diets. Teens need more protein like chicken, meat, salmon and other fish. Milk and water are necessary and high energy drinks should be avoided for this age. Consider giving your child a multivitamin every day. Have seasonal fruit on hand for a healthy snack. Place fruit in a bowl on a counter or table so it is visible and an easy choice for a quick snack.
5. Medications: Some prescriptions can cause lack of concentration or sleepiness. Asthma and allergy medication has many side effects like this. Inhalers can cause children to be anxious or jittery. Children with diabetes can be tired (low sugar) or if they have high sugar they can experience anger or hyperactivity. Teachers and administration in the school should know about children who have special medical needs and use prescription medication. They should be aware of the side effects. Parents should give this information to the school nurse or counselor so the school can be aware of the situation and needs. This information comes from the pediatrician or other doctor. Many times the child will qualify for a special nursing plan or Section 504 plan so needs can be met at school. Remember, a teacher does not have a medical degree so specific considerations have to be written, and many teachers are willing to accommodate children with special needs.
What are the solutions?
1. Communication with the School: Good teachers who use best practices and who observe problems with students implement good interventions to help children succeed before they start failing or get behind. They also keep records of what is working or not working. Parent conferences and good communication are a must. Parents must communicate often with the school to let teachers know what is going on in the home or with the child's health. Many teachers communicate with parents by email, text, or school websites and on-line grade books.
2. School Counselor: Parents can also check-in with the school counselor. Many school counselors conduct classroom lessons or provide small group interventions to teach study and organizational skills. Many schools also have tutoring schedules and creative ways to help children before and after school. Check with your school counselor for resources that may be available.
3. Interventions: Teachers can do these things: Ask the child to repeat the directions of an assignment. Have the child sit in the BACK of the room. He gets his cues from other students. When the child sits in the front of the room, he cannot see what other children are doing, for example, "Everyone is opening their book now. I should get my book out and find the right page." or "It is time to listen and take notes. I see everyone working." Have him learn to get cues from his surroundings. Praise the child for paying attention. Have lessons that are auditory, visual and hands-on. Have the child take notes or use graphic organizers when you are presenting information. Have the child use a planner to write down homework assignments or other work that was incomplete at school. Teach the child how to be organized - at school and at home.
4. Get a Proper Diagnosis: Lack of concentration and focus can be symptoms of many different things going on in a child's life. If you do not have the proper diagnosis, you can not get the proper treatment. Some may need medication; some need an intervention; some need a therapist. Not all children who lack concentration and focus are ADHD or need stimulant medication which has many negative side effects. ADHD is a mental health diagnosis and children should see a mental health provider to get properly diagnosed.
Understanding, Management, Policy on ADD/ADHD in the classroom : Interactive Forums and Teaching Tools for K12 Educators. Mr. Oscar Staton is the moderator.
Listen to the podcast here.
Mrs. Wilhelm has been awarded ASCA National School Counselor of the Year Semifinalist, RAMP, and FLDOE Parent Involvement Award. She has written student workbooks on anger control and stress management. She has completed two DVDs on Games and Play to Enhance Counseling and Teaching Strategies: Creative Ways to Engage Students in Small Groups, Classrooms or Individual Counseling Sessions.