What should parents and teachers do to help inattentive children?

There are hundreds of scientific articles, books, newsletters and websites available on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). One might question why I chose to write on this topic. Over the years, I have come to believe it is a disorder that is often misunderstood both by parents and teachers, and that the term is loosely used.

ADHD is one of most common disorders among children. It is currently recognised as a disorder with behavioural, emotional, educational and cognitive aspects that impact the life of a child every day. He has to contend with two major problems at school — poor scholastic performance and peer relations. Even bright and gifted children with ADHD may get poor grades because of their inability to concentrate and complete tasks.

Over the last three decades, an increasing number of children are being identified with ADHD. The reason is greater public awareness. Also, in the last decade, pre-schoolers are being identified with ADHD where, in the past, the professionals felt that most outgrew it when they reached adolescence. The rise in incidence among pre-schoolers seems to be related to increased expectations placed on children by teachers who expect children to comply with their instructions all the time.

The focus of this article is not on the diagnosis of ADHD but to provide teachers and parents with a better understanding of it. An important first step for both is to become familiar with the disorder and to recognise that ADHD can present itself differently in children. It is also important to note that though a child may not meet the criteria for a diagnosis of ADHD, he can still present many symptoms of ADHD that will challenge him in a classroom or social setting.

For lay people, ADHD is synonymous with hyperactive and impulsive behaviour but there is another type which often gets overlooked. It is known as Inattention. The focus here is on inattention as children who are inattentive tend to be overlooked far more than those displaying outwardly noticeable symptoms. Such children may sit quietly and look as if they are paying attention but the fact is they are probably attending to the most irrelevant things such as the colour of the teacher’s sari or the book she is holding. As a consequence, they miss out on important information given by her. Children with inattention are internally rather than externally distracted. They often are seen as underactive, day-dreamers and cognitively slow.

When reviewing findings related to attention, it is important to consider that observed or reported symptoms could stem from several different constructs. Language problems, for instance, can create the appearance of inattentiveness. When you are not fluent in the language or medium of instruction, then your understanding of what you hear and read is limited and your capacity to communicate is laborious. As you struggle to comprehend, you might drift off and appear inattentive. You would be likely to miss details. You would probably experience frustration and might even respond impulsively in different situations in an effort to get your needs met. In short, you might seem like a person who is inattentive. Resisting written tasks or sloppy/untidy hand-writing could also look like poor attention.

Inattentiveness causes students to develop gaps in learning as they are not able to remain attentive when the teacher introduces information. Their decisions are based on partial information and this leads to incomplete assignments. But as they are not aware of their mistakes, and are confused. According to a study, their inability to remain attentive may impair their ability to focus and master basic math skill and reading.

Children with inattention detest routine activities which require concentration for long hours. They find completing worksheets, assignments, class work and homework boring and uninteresting. They will also move from one toy to another, while playing, or may not complete a board game because they are bored.

Adults have a tendency to assume that a struggling student is lazy, wilful, unmotivated or worse, he is not bright. But if parents and teachers took cognisance of this and modified their methods of instruction, then they can reach out to these children; otherwise there is a risk that they will develop problematic behaviour and secondary disorder.


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