- Do children outgrow difficulties with inattention, focus & hyperactivity?
- Is medication the cure for these problems in childhood?
When a child is diagnosed with inattention, distractibility, with or without hyperactivity, parents are often faced with a series of concerns. Will these problems interfere with academic performance? Will medication help? Is another treatment needed besides medicine?
The answer to all 3 questions is yes, but in differing degrees.
Attention Deficit Disorder, with or without hyperactivity, is documented to interfere with learning. Children who suffer from ADD but exhibit no hyperactivity may go undiagnosed for several years because they suffer quietly and often “fall off the radar” in a classroom where behavior problems claim more of the teacher’s attention. Well-behaved students may look as if they’re focusing but may have problems following directions, making transitions in activities and switching between topics.
Medication to treat these problems needs to be a parental decision after consultation with professionals and often includes examination of a student’s cognitive functioning and language skills. Many students have been helped by medication that reduces their distractibility. However, in my experience medication alone is not the panacea that parents and students would like to believe.
The most effective way to treat ADD & ADHD is to raise the child or adolescent’s awareness of his thinking and focus, and provide strategies to re-direct attention to the task of the moment. Becoming aware of one’s thinking is called “metacognition” and provides a critical tool for self regulation and self modification. Metacognition remains a cornerstone to developing executive function skills, which are essential for organization, planning, prioritization and focus. The current practice of “mindfulness” intersects with metacognition in the goal of “being in the moment” and reducing distractions. Even young children can be taught to become aware of their distracting thoughts and refocus their thinking.
Poor executive function skills resulting from ADD and ADHD can affect academic performance throughout formal schooling, including college and graduate school. Unfortunately most children and teenagers don’t “grow” out of their problems with cognitive functioning. The most successful ones either receive support services or therapy to develop the skills to keep themselves on task and focused.
Adults, whether diagnosed or not, can find these problems impacting on their careers throughout their lives, often resulting in unfilled potential and goals. Medication can assist adults in focus and attention, but does not “cure” problems that result in poor organization, time management and distractibility. At the adult level it remains essential (as for younger individuals) to develop metacognitive strategies and effective executive function skills. Speech pathologists trained in this area are frequently the professionals who provide therapy to assist children and adults with ADD and ADHD. Intervention at any age can make a profound change in a person’s life.
Check back soon for more articles on executive function, speech pathology, effective speaking skills and writing.