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What Is an Attention Disorder? Myths, Facts, Signs and Worrisome Statistics

By Sasha de Beausset Aparicio, MSc

Last Updated:

Attention Disorder
Attention Disorder

Attention disorders are not to be ignored. Children are the most exposed to these types of disorders, but adults can develop similar health concerns as well.[1] The ability to be present with focus, purpose, and clarity is a skill everyone needs.

Students are especially in need of excellent attention skills as they must be able to attend classes for instruction, focus on assignments, and stay on task. Parents must understand that an attention disorder is not simple behavioral patterns, it’s directly connected to cognitive skills. Cognitive skills are the fundamental mental abilities that enable us to analyze sounds and images, process information, create associations, and attend with purpose and clarity.

Standard treatments for attention disorders include medication (prescription medication or natural supplements) and counseling. Stimulant medications (psychostimulants) and the non-stimulant medication atomoxetine (e.g., Strattera) are the most commonly prescribed medications for treating attention disorders.[2] However, they are not the only available choices.

Numerous manufacturers have developed natural formulas, which, according to them, are just as effective as prescription meds, but without the unwanted side effects commonly associated with these forms of treatment.

What Exactly Is ADD/ADHD?


ADHD is a neurologically based disorder, resulting from the deficiency of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, or, more specifically,  the building blocks of norepinephrine, dopa and dopamine, in specific areas of the brain. These neurotransmitters are chemicals that transmit signals between nerve cells by bridging the synapse (or gap) between them and play a significant role in many aspects of health, including attention and focus.

An individual with ADHD finds it much more difficult to concentrate on something without being distracted.[3][4] Someone with ADD / ADHD is likely to have considerably more difficulty managing what he or she is saying or doing and is less able to control how much physical activity is appropriate for a particular situation compared to someone without an attention disorder. In other words, an individual with ADHD is much more restless and impulsive.

Health care professionals may use any of the following terms when describing a child (or an older person) who is overactive and has difficulty concentrating: Hyperkinetic Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Hyperactivity, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). North Americans frequently use the terms ADD or ADHD. In the United Kingdom, the official term is Hyperkinetic Disorder – however, ADHD and ADD have become widely recognized and used.[5]

Another thing that’s extremely important to understand is the difference between ADHD in children and children who exhibit active behavior and common childhood excitement. Most children, especially very young ones, are restless and inattentive without fundamentally being affected by an attention disorder.

A recent study has revealed a concerning genetic link between attention disorders and four other mental illnesses/disorders.[6] Researchers at the Cross Disorders Group of the Psychiatric Genomic Consortium believe that ADHD, major depressive, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and autism spectrum disorders may share the same common inherited genetic variations.

Understanding ADHD/ADD in Adults

ADD/ADHD in Adults

Attention disorder is not just a problem in children and young adults. If you were diagnosed with childhood ADD or ADHD, chances are, you’ve carried at least some of the symptoms into adulthood.[7][8] But even if you were never diagnosed with an attention disorder as a child, that doesn’t mean you can’t be influenced by it as an adult.

Unfortunately, most attention disorders go unrecognized and undiagnosed throughout childhood, which was particularly prevalent in the past when most people were not aware of attention disorders such as ADD or ADHD. Instead of understanding your symptoms and identifying the real issue, your teachers, family, or other parents may have labeled you a goof-off, a dreamer, a troublemaker, a slacker, or just a below standard student.

Alternately, you may have been able to offset the symptoms associated with an attention disorder when you were a child, only to run into problems as your responsibilities increased. The more balls you’re trying to juggle with – raising a family, pursuing a career, running a household – the higher the demand for your ability to focus and organize, which can be challenging for anyone. But with an attention disorder in the background, it can feel utterly impossible.

However, no matter how it feels, the challenges of an attention disorder are not insurmountable. With a little creativity, support, and education, anyone can learn to manage the symptoms of adult ADHD or ADD -even turning some of your weaknesses into strengths. It’s never too late to turn the difficulties of adult attention disorders around and start succeeding on your own terms.

5 Myths and Facts About Attention Disorders

Attention Disorders Myths

Myth: Kids with an attention disorder can never pay attention.
Fact: Children with ADD or ADHD are often able to focus on activities they enjoy.[9] But regardless of how hard they try, they have difficulties maintaining focus when the task at hand becomes repetitive or boring.

Myth: Kids will eventually grow out of an attention disorder, and the symptoms will just go away.
Fact: Attention disorders often continue into adulthood, so don’t wait for your child to outgrow the problem.[10] Proper treatment can help your child learn to manage the disorder and reduce the impact of the symptoms.

Myth: All kids with ADHD are hyperactive.
Fact: Some children with ADHD are hyperactive, but many others with attention problems are not.[11][12] Children with ADHD who are inattentive, but not overly active, may appear to be spacey and unmotivated.

Myth: Medication is the best treatment and only viable option for dealing with an attention disorder.
Fact: Medication is often prescribed for ADHD and ADD, but it might not be the best solution for your child. Efficient treatment also includes behavior therapy, education, support at home and school, proper nutrition, and exercise.[13][14]

Myth: Kids with ADHD or ADD could behave better if they wanted to.
Fact: Children with ADHD may do their best to be good, but still be unable to pay attention, stay quiet, or sit still. They may appear rebellious, but that doesn’t mean they’re acting out on purpose.[15][16]

The 14 Signs of an Attention Disorder in Children

Attention Disorder in Children

1) Interrupting

Self-focused behavior may cause a child with ADHD to interrupt others while they’re talking or butt into conversations or games they’re not part of.

2) Self-focused behavior

A typical sign of an attention disorder is what looks like an inability to recognize other people’s needs and desires, which can easily be linked to other indications of attention disorder.

3) Difficulties waiting their turn

Kids with ADD or ADHD may have trouble waiting their turn when playing games with other children or during classroom activities.[17]

4) Fidgetiness

Children with an attention disorder often can’t sit still. They may squirm in their chair when forced to sit, fidget, or try to get up and run around.

5) Emotional turmoil

A child with ADD or ADHD may have trouble keeping his emotions in check. He may have outbursts of anger at inappropriate times. Younger children may have temper tantrums.

6) Problems playing quietly

Fidgetiness can make it difficult for kids with ADD or ADHD to play quietly or engage calmly in leisure activities.[18]

7) Lack of focus

A child with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, even when someone is speaking directly to them. They’ll say they heard you, but they won’t be able to repeat back to you what you just said.

8) Unfinished tasks

A child with ADHD may show interest in lots of different things, but they may have problems finishing them. For example, they may start projects, chores, or homework, but move on to the next task that catches their interest before finishing.

9) Avoidance of tasks needing extended mental effort

This same lack of focus can cause a child to avoid activities that require sustained mental discipline, such as paying attention in class or doing homework.

10) Daydreaming

Children with ADHD aren’t always rambunctious and loud. Another sign of ADHD is being quieter and less involved than other kids. A child with ADHD may stare into space, daydream, and ignore what’s going on around them.

11) Mistakes

Children with ADHD can have trouble following instructions that require planning or executing a plan. This can then lead to careless mistakes, but it doesn’t indicate laziness or a lack of intelligence.

12) Trouble getting organized

A child with ADHD may have trouble keeping track of tasks and activities. This may cause problems at school, as they can find it hard to prioritize school projects, homework, and other assignments.[19]

13) Symptoms in multiple settings

A child with ADHD will show symptoms of the condition in more than one setting. For instance, they may show lack of focus both in school and at home.

14) Forgetfulness

Kids with ADHD may be forgetful in daily activities. They may forget to do chores or homework. They may also lose things often, such as toys.

Worrisome Statistics on Attention Disorders

Attention Disorders Statistics

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), 5% of American children have an attention disorder.[20] However, it should be noted that studies in the United States have estimated higher rates as a result of community surveys. These surveys asked parents whether they had received a diagnosis of ADHD from a healthcare professional.

The survey results, published by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention),[21][22] calculate that approximately 6.4 million children (11%) aged 4 to 17 were diagnosed with ADD or ADHD in the United States by a healthcare professional (as of 2011). The numbers are rising from 7.8% in 2003 (CDC data).

An interesting statistic from the same CDC survey results shows that boys (13.2%) were more likely than girls (5.6%) to have received an attention disorder diagnosis.

Reference Sources