Having personally worked with hundreds of children who have “attention problems,” we have discovered dozens of reasons leading to such a misdiagnosis.
The following examples are real kids that came to us. Some just did the assessment and some did a program with us; some were easy to identify and others took longer to understand.
Before considering medication, discipline, counselling or other extreme measures, carefully and thoughtfully consider the following list:
Stuffy head caused by allergies
We have worked with a least 100 children who had learning and attention problems caused primarily by allergies. You cannot think well when your head is stuffy. Consider when you have had a cold and still had to go to work. That would not have been the best day for you to participate in an employee-training program. Some kids are stuffed up and not thinking clearly every day of their childhood. Get rid of the cat! Use an antihistamine. Excuse that child from mowing the lawn. Vacuum daily. Help your child to think clearly during allergy season.
Youngest child in the class
Consider any classroom and there is one year in age difference from the youngest child to the oldest. A surprisingly (no, horrifyingly) disproportionate number of kids diagnosed with ADHD are among the youngest kids in that classroom. Of course, a child who is one full year younger (especially in the primary grades) is not as capable of performing socially or academically as the older children are.
Itchiness caused by eczema
No one can think clearly and pay attention when they are itchy. I recently assessed a boy whose parents were considering medicating him for ADHD based on the teacher’s recommendation. During the assessment with us, this boy could not stop scratching because of his eczema. We do not think he has ADHD. We think he is very, very itchy. Frequently, eczema is actually contact dermatitis caused by allergies. Change laundry detergent (Nellie’s laundry soda is hypoallergenic) and wash all his clothes and bedding. I need to be very careful of soaps. I only use Dawn for dishes, Dove body wash, and TRESemme shampoo and conditioner. This is the perfect combination for improving the quality of my life. (I am also allergic to many metals and sensitive to latex.)
Itchiness caused by insects and plants
As far as attention goes, an insect bite trumps a teacher’s lesson every time. Get a flea collar for the pet and possibly have the house exterminated. Do not eat bananas in the spring and summer as they make you very attractive to mosquitoes. Use After-Bite on mosquito bites. Thoroughly wash nettle stings with soap and water as soon as possible and be amazed at how quickly they go away.
A good night’s sleep is critical to attention and learning. Ensure an early bedtime. Is the bed comfortable? Is the room too noisy? I had a student who could not sleep because a noisy deep freeze was in his room. Is your child worried about a bully, teacher, or family problems? Look for the causes and search for non-medicinal remedies whenever possible. Ideas: Hot bath, warm snack, boring bedtime story, no screen time for at least one hour before bed, soft music without words.
Most children today eat a breakfast that doesn’t last. They are hungry within 30-60 minutes of eating. All cereals and breads cause blood sugar to spike and then drop. Feed your child a big breakfast of eggs with bacon, sausage, or ham. No toast, no jam, no hot or cold cereal, no pancakes, and no juice. You could see a huge change in your child from the very first day. The same applies to snacks and lunch at school. Real food will help your child think better all day. The 2019 Canada Food Guide offers great recommendations. The World Health Organization has recognized Brazil’s as the very best. See what CBC’s The Nature of Things has to say about it.
Brains get dehydrated. A recent study shows that to retain the water you drink, it needs to be with something that catches the body’s interest, like food. Drink a glass of water at breakfast and again with dinner. Juice, pop, and other sweet drinks make you even thirstier. Many ADHD medications cause thirst.
One day I was assessing a boy who was recently adopted from Africa. I noticed something wrong and he admitted to me that he had a toothache but didn’t want his new family to know about it as they might send him back for being an expensive child. After a trip to the dentist, he started doing well in school and did not need us.
Many kids we assess who have ADHD are actually gifted and bored. Parenting gifted children is not an easy task as they come with their own set of problems. However, medication is not usually the best solution. There is a diagnosis of Gifted/ADHD but it might actually be Gifted/Bored. (I am a member of Mensa and can speak to this from personal experience.)
Uncomfortable chair or desk
Is your child’s desk at school the right size? If his feet are swinging, he may appear hyperactive. Skinny kids with bony, skinny buttocks will get sore and squirm. A too small desk will also be uncomfortable. Discomfort is not hyperactivity or an attention problem.
Too cold or hot
Is your child’s desk in front of a window with the sun shining on him all day? Is she in a draft? It is hard to pay attention when you are freezing or boiling.
A student frequently had tummy aches at school. Her teacher accused her of faking it to get out of doing her work. Upon removing gluten from her diet, the tummy aches went away and she liked school. She was tiny and not growing before the diagnosis. She grew like a weed and was able to pay attention to the teacher afterwards.
Other medical conditions
We had one boy who was really struggling with attention in school. He did not eat, vomited when he ate, and was not growing. His teacher thought he was doing this to get out of going to school. It turns out the opening to his esophagus was restricted. He received an esophageal stent, curing his learning and behaviour problems.
Frequently we discover that a child cannot read the paper on the desk or a whiteboard across the room. Ask your child to read something close and a sign or billboard to see what happens. We had a boy with double vision and a girl whose eyes did not converge. A “lazy eye” is usually blind. That matters! Get your child’s vision checked yearly. In BC, MSP covers the costs of eye exams for kids. Sometimes, learning problems can be completely resolved with glasses.
Children keep bullying a secret. They go through their day afraid and cannot think of anything other than the beating or teasing that could happen at any moment. If there is a bully, as the parent you need to get on top of the situation.
A diagnosis of a learning disability means that your child has a deficit in one or more cognitive skills. These skills are trainable. We do it day in and day out with hundreds of kids every year. You need to contact us!
How can a non-reader think when the teacher might make him read aloud at any moment? How can the struggling math student think when she is waiting her turn to go to the board to solve a problem in front of everyone? Embarrassment is a very powerful emotion that can shut down a brain. Find out why your child is struggling (see our assessment) and get it resolved.
Tags on their shirts and waistbands, toe seams on socks, and restrictive clothing, bother many kids. They cannot think when all they can do is feel their tight underwear. We have seen several children with wet feet due to holes in their boots or from wearing runners in the rain. Wet feet and an itchy sweater make listening to the teacher’s lesson almost impossible.
Get your kid to the chiropractor or massage therapist if he is always twisting and squirming his back or neck and looking terribly uncomfortable in a chair. Instead of ADHD, it might be something is out of alignment. Growing pains are a real thing and can cause a kid to wriggle and squirm for months.
Your teenager cannot think because the girl in front of him is pretty and smells nice. Of course, he is not paying attention but it is not ADHD. Maybe he needs to sit elsewhere. Good luck with that.
Some kids cannot think if there is an unpleasant or strong smell. Harsh lighting can cause eyestrain or headaches. A noisy classroom can be almost impossible for some kids to cope with. What is outside the classroom window that could cause your child to be overly distracted?
Auditory processing deficits and disorder (APD)
Does it seem as though your child does not hear very well? Perhaps you have even had his hearing tested and he hears just fine. Auditory processing deficits are the leading cause of learning problems and are frequently mistaken for ADHD. Our assessments will determine if your child has auditory processing deficits and our programs can strengthen these abilities.
Not everyone has strong intellectual abilities. Most are average (that’s why it’s called average), some are gifted, and others are weak. It is hard to pay attention when the topic is beyond your comprehension.
How can you think straight when your best friend is mad at you, your parents are fighting all the time, your brother is mean to you, your grandma died, or you have no friends in this new school? Sadness is a true and honest emotion. It does not mean depression; it means you are sad for a reason. What needs to happen to change the situation or the feelings brought on by it?
The list goes on. There are hundreds of reasons for inattention other than ADHD and that can be resolved without medication.
Look at your child with an open mind. Try to get in his or her shoes and discover the reasons for the attention problems.
Our assessment tests a range of cognitive abilities. Sometimes that is where the problem lies, but not always. When we can rule out the problem being in the brain, it is often easier to determine what else it might be. We have gotten to be good at observation and at asking the child the right questions to get to the root of the problem.
Let’s find out what’s really going on with your child. Call today to book an appointment: (604)539-1386.