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Inattentive ADHD: 11 Signs Your Child May Have It
If your child is struggling with ADHD, as a parent you will struggle to…understand…evaluate…cope…find solutions…advocate…and make important decisions about how best to protect your son or daughter and help. There are many strategies, some more controversial than others, that parents can consider for dealing with ADHD. But the first step is to learn more about what it is and then make sure it’s what your child actually has.
What is ADHD?
It is one of the most common mental disorders that children develop. If left untreated, ADHD can lead to poor school/work performance, poor social relationships, and overall low self-esteem. ADD / ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a very real condition characterized by inattentiveness and distractibility and/or hyperactive and impulsive behavior. The question is how the brain sends and receives information.
The brain is made up of millions of interconnected nerve cells called neurons that need to communicate with each other in order for us to function. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that carry messages back and forth between neurons. For example, dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate behavior. When you lack enough dopamine, the neurons in the frontal cortex of the brain, which is responsible for attention, do not communicate effectively. In ADHD, something funny happens with this necessary cell-to-cell communication. Some evidence suggests that ADHD may be caused by a genetic deficiency of specific neurotransmitters. It is also thought that the neuron receptors that recognize dopamine do not work properly in people with ADHD.
So in practical terms you could say that the brains of these children have a processing a problem where mental commands such as “focus”, “store information”, “evaluate” or “do not act” become lost in translation. The result is depressing disconnect between their intelligence… and achievement; their character…and their behavior.
ADHD is often first discovered when a child enters school because attention and behavior problems are more prominent in this structured environment. Imagine a classroom with several kids who can’t sit still, who never seem to listen, who don’t follow directions no matter how clearly you give them, or who make inappropriate comments at inappropriate times. Although they are often very bright, articulate, artistic and creative or excel at sports…Hyperactive children are usually described as bouncing off the wall, disruptive, disobedient, disrespectful or troublemakers. They may have difficulty sitting still or waiting their turn. Their impulsive behavior can lead them to “act before thinking.” Their short attention spans and distractions become more noticeable. And their social relationships, grades, and schoolwork begin to rapidly go downhill as they fall further and further behind.
So far, we have described the most common and easily recognizable face of ADHD. But what about a lesser-known, less obvious, but equally debilitating version of this disability:
Inattentive or “Winnie the Pooh” ADHD
While hyperactive children are the “squeaky wheel that gets dirty,” inattentive children are the “invisible silent sufferers” of ADHD. They both have the same neurotransmitter deficiency…both have processing problems in their brains…both have a disconnect between potential and performance. But the way it manifests itself on the outside is literally like night and day.
Unlike hyperactive children, inattentive ADHD children are usually described as well-behaved, quiet, and introverted “space cadets” who are often in their own world, slow, lazy, irresponsible, easily bored, socially awkward, and sometimes helpless. They do not react negatively, appear attentive, have difficulty speaking up for themselves, and are thus often overlooked and undiagnosed. Although this type of ADHD is thought to be more common in girls; boys can have it too. My son does.
If hyperactive children are “indiscriminate fire in all cylinders”, inattentive children are “failed to launch”.
Usually the brain the prefrontal cortex speeds upactivity when there is work to focus on. But in inattentive ADHD the prefrontal cortex actually slows downwhen you are asked to concentrate on work such as reading or doing homework. This part of the brain looks normal at “rest” but actually seems to fall asleep when asked to “go to work.” Look at it this way; when it’s time to pay attention The Inattentive Child’s Brain sends a “stick and stay” commandbut instead get permission to “not migrate”.
This has been documented and observed hundreds of times in EEG subjects. During rest, brain wave activity is quite normal. But when the subject is asked to read or do a math worksheet, the subject’s brain wave activity begins to look like the subject is falling asleep. And they often fall asleep! This makes it very difficult to pay attention to school work, do homework, listen to the teacher, clean the room, and basically “stay on task”.
How to recognize a child with inattentive ADHD
My son Gabriel had always been popular (if a little shy and reserved), liked his teachers, and was an honor student at an academically demanding school. He was obsessed and mastered all fast paced computer games. Then in 3rd grade he inexplicably crashed and burned.
Not to overstate it, it was one of the worst years of his life and mine. Suddenly, he couldn’t seem to keep up… fell behind… thought he was stupid… dreaded school and homework… refused to even try… and just wanted to drop out mentally. His dad thought it was “just a phase” and I was overreacting. His teacher thought Gabriel was cute but a little slow and disorganized. Since 1st grade, I had felt a growing concern that something was wrong (Gabriel’s handwriting, verbal skills, comprehension, and standardized test scores were not where I thought they should be). But his teachers thought I was worrying for nothing, and since he seemed to be doing well, I dismissed my suspicions. That is, until 3rd grade, when he suddenly started having this painful and catastrophic cold.
Confused and anxious, I searched high and low for answers until I finally gathered enough information to realize that inattentive ADHD was the cause of Gabriel’s difficulties. Does your child have any or all of the following characteristics?
11 Signs Your Child May Have Inattentive ADHD
- Becomes easily overwhelmed; can only focus on one thing at a time.
- Has trouble starting and/or finishing tasks (often forgets homework, family chores, can take “forever” to finish homework).
- May dream of getting dressed in the morning; a fixed gaze can hide a wandering mind.
- Attention is distracted by internal thoughts and external stimuli. (The brain may be on 16 channels, but the body seems exhausted.)
- He gets bored easily…doesn’t like to read…seems “hypnotized” by the hyperstimulation of fast paced video games and TV
- has a listless and apathetic appearance; even if a person thinks quickly, he gets tired quickly; often called lazy and unmotivated.
- does not meet needs in the classroom because he does not disturb others; tends to be quiet, shy, or withdrawn, resulting in overlooked cognitive deficits.
- Has problems with social skills (may be quiet, withdrawn, or perhaps shy; has difficulty speaking and figuring out the rules of social interaction; has trouble reading social cues; tends to be lonely and withdrawn). Unfortunately, this passivity can make a person an attractive target for bullies.
- not performing at potential level; processes slowly; seems confused or stressed; has difficulty synthesizing and organizing ideas; answers questions slowly.
- Saved repeatedly; uses learned helplessness and passive manipulation; feels powerless; becomes chronically dependent.
- May be on an emotional rollercoaster (anxious, depressed, explosive, grumpy, sarcastic, rude or snappy).
OMG. Looking at this compiled list of typical behaviors, I finally understoodwhat happened to my son. It was so accurate it was almost scary. I tried to enlist his teacher’s help and he listened and nodded politely, but he had no idea what I was talking about. I went to his tutors. They advised me that the quickest way to intervene and help was to get an official diagnosis from her pediatrician.
If you suspect inattentive ADHD, have your child evaluated and diagnosed.
These are tests that are commonly used to confirm a diagnosis of ADHD.
- Child behavior checklist completed by parents
- Child Behavior Checklist Teacher Report Form (TRF).
- Conners Parent and Teacher Rating Scales
- ADD-H: A Comprehensive Teacher Rating Scale
- Barkley Home Situation Questionnaire (HSQ)
- Barkley School Situation Questionnaire (SSQ)
My son had the Woodcock-Johnson Cognitive Skills Test and was graded by his pediatrician. Although I had mixed feelings about placing such a potentially negative label on my son, I was relieved to finally receive a real medical diagnosis. Once it was in place, I was able to tap into help and resources that weren’t available at his school before. And finally, I could begin to come up with a viable plan to help my son manage and cope with the significant challenges of inattentive ADHD.
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