Expert Iconexpert advice MORE

Does My Son Have ADHD?

LD and ADD/ADHD Expert Advice from Jerome J. Schultz, Ph.D.

Q: My second-grade son has a problem with paying attention. His first- and second-grade teachers are bringing up the possibility of ADHD, but I disagree. ADHD is the first excuse teachers think of when they can't reach a child. My son does not show any signs of hyperactivity -- he just has a problem with paying attention in certain situations. He's an A/B student, but when he isn't paying attention to the teacher, his grades drop. His paperwork (writing, spelling, and reading) is within his grade level.

I don't feel that he needs to be tested for ADHD. If he's interested in something, or if someone makes eye contact with him, he will pay attention. What do you think?

A: Many teachers have had at least some training to help them recognize the symptoms of ADHD. This is important, since teachers are in a great position to observe a child in many different settings or activities during the school day and collect data that helps a team confirm or rule out ADHD. This is a key to answering your question. You say that your son has difficulty paying attention in "certain situations." It's important to know exactly what these situations are, in order to really understand the nature of his inattention.

Some kids may appear to have difficulty "attending" during group instruction, when in reality they might have an auditory processing disorder, a type of learning disability that makes it very hard for them to understand what's being said, even though they can hear the sounds just fine. Other kids' minds wander when they are given math that's way beyond their level of mastery. If they don't understand how to do the problems, it's no wonder that they drift and seem inattentive. They see no hope of doing the work correctly and to keep at it may seem to them a waste of time.

Other kids may have dysgraphia, another type of learning disability that makes it hard for the brain to control the muscles of the arm and hand in order to write or draw, or do paper-and-pencil math very well. Their brains function more quickly than their hands. These kids take so much time to "draw" the letters and numbers that they get bored. The creative process gets put in the back seat by this problem with fine motor coordination. Still other kids find it hard to read the social cues in the classroom, and "tune out" because they can't keep up with the flow of verbal and nonverbal communication.

Ask the teachers to tell you more about what they see as inattention. Ask to see the written results of their observations in a variety of settings. It's important to remember that a child can have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder without being hyperactive, so the absence of that behavior does not rule out the condition. However, it's very important to analyze both the learning strengths and weaknesses of a child, and the demands of the classroom or the environment, as well as the style of teaching before anyone jumps to the conclusion that ADHD is the culprit. (Remember that boring teacher, Mr. Yawn? Enough to drive anybody to distraction.)

More on: Expert Advice

Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

stay connected

Sign up for our free email newsletters and receive the latest advice and information on all things parenting.

Enter your email address to sign up or manage your account.

Facebook icon Twitter icon Follow Us on Pinterest

editor’s picks


Healthy Smile Checklist for Kids
Have better dental check-ups with this free printable checklist that helps keep your child flossing, brushing, and smiling! Brought to you by Philips Sonicare.

Kindergarten Readiness App
It's kindergarten registration time! Use this interactive kindergarten readiness checklist, complete with fun games and activities, to practice the essential skills your child needs for this next big step. Download the Kindergarten Readiness app today!

Top 10 Earth Day Books for Children
Celebrate the environment by reading some of these great children's books about Earth Day, recycling, planting trees, and all things green!

Prom Dress Trends for 2014
Check out 2014 prom dress trends inspired by celebrities’ red carpet looks, but with a price tag under $100!