Do Attention Problems mean my Child has ADHD?

5 Reasons Why Your Child’s Attention Problems Might NOT be ADHD.

Meet 5  different Students with one common story.

  • Attention Challenges, Attention Focus, ADHDJeremy wiggles constantly in his chair. It keeps him from getting his work done and is very distracting to the students sitting near him.
  • Manny talks to his neighbors all the time instead of doing his work. He’s always interested in what everyone else is doing, but he can’t seem to pay attention to his own work.
  • Sara tries really hard to be “good.†She sits up tall and looks right at the teacher. But pretty soon, she’s fiddling with things on her desk or staring straight through the teacher. When it’s time to start working, Sara always has to ask, “What were we supposed to do?â€
  • Rachel never knows what she’s supposed to do for homework. She uses her planner, but what she’s written is incomplete and doesn’t make a lot of sense. If she does do her homework, she usually can’t find it when it’s time to turn it in.
  • Jessica is getting Ds and Fs in high school. She can read, write, spell, and do math but she doesn’t pay attention in class, does poorly on tests, and doesn’t get her work done.

What do these students have in common? Each of these children has trouble paying attention in class, yet  Not one of them has Attention Deficit Disorder.

Good attention and efficient learning depend upon a solid foundation of underlying learning skills
The vast majority of students who come to our learning center have some challenges with attention, but only a small minority are truly ADHD. Successful, easy learning depends upon a solid foundation of underlying learning skills. These skills include the following:

  • Developmental Learning Skills: These are basic visual and motor skills that help children develop a sense of self, internal organization, and body and attention awareness and control.
  • Processing Skills: These are skills such as attention, memory, auditory and visual processing (how we think about and understand things that we see or hear), processing speed, language comprehension, and phonemic awareness (the thinking process critical to reading that supports learning and using phonics).
  • Executive Function: This is our personal manager that guides and directs our attention and behavior. It helps us reason, problem solve, organize, and make decisions.

Poor attention in class may be a symptom, not the real problem
If a child has problems with any of the underlying learning skills, his attention system will also be stressed. While attention may become a problem in school or with homework, it may not actually be the real problem.

5 Students ~ Five Different Learning Challenges Affecting Attention
Jeremy, our wiggly, distracting student can’t sit still in his chair because of a retained primitive reflex called the Spinal Galant.

Primitive reflexes are involuntary movements that are present in infants to help with the birth process and adaptation as a newborn. If these reflexes don’t “disappear†within about the first year of life, they will continue to fire and cause neurological interference that inhibits efficient development and easy learning.

Jeremy’s retained Spinal Gallant reflex causes him to wiggle in his chair when he doesn’t mean to.When he tries hard to sit still, it takes all of his attention, so he can’t really think about what the teacher is saying or what he’s supposed to be doing on his assignments.

Manny is dyslexic. He’s very smart and very clever. He has memorized some words, but he can’t sound out new words and sometimes when he looks at the page, it seems like the words and letters are moving around. At nine-years-old, he’s already figured out that getting in trouble for “entertaining†his neighbors is better than anyone knowing he can’t read.

Sara has an auditory processing problem. She tries so hard to listen, but what she’s hearing is spotty and inconsistent, like a bad cell phone connection. She tries to fill-in the gaps, but pretty soon, it just doesn’t make sense and she can’t keep her attention on it anymore.

Rachel has poor visual memory skills. When she tries to copy down assignments, she has to look back and forth so many times between the board and her planner, that she often loses her place and misses part of the information. It takes her longer than the other students, so she often doesn’t finish because its embarrassing to have to stay after class copying the assignment.

When Rachel does her homework, she sticks it in her backpack. The problem is, she can’t hold a picture in her mind of exactly where it is, so when it’s time to turn it in the next day, she can’t remember where she put it. Well-meaning teachers and family have suggested that maybe Ritalin would help her pay better attention. They don’t realize that Rachel is paying attention, but her visual memory is not supporting her well enough to remember the information.

Jessica has weak processing and executive function skills. She’s pretty sure her parents and teacher are right when they say she’s lazy and unmotivated because she just can’t seem to pay attention and get her work done.

Weak underlying processing and executive function skills can keep a capable student from being able to pull it altogether to perform as expected. They struggle to keep up and have inconsistent homework grades and test scores.

Addressing the root cause of the poor attention symptom can eliminate the problem. 
All five of these students were able to solve their attention and learning challenges by developing the underlying learning skills that were not supporting them well enough.

Jeremy went through Core Learning Skills Training to integrate his retained reflexes and improve his body awareness and control. He no longer stands out in class.

Manny went through a specialized auditory stimulation and reading program to develop his phonemic awareness and ability to look at the words on the page without getting disoriented. He can now understand how the sounds in words work and has learned to read and spell. He’s putting his strong verbal abilities and humor to use in the school play.

Sara went through a program of Auditory Stimulation and Training to increase her auditory processing skills. She is able to listen to her teacher and her friends now without getting exhausted and missing information. She no longer feels lost and anxious and is able to be the good student she always tried to be.

Rachel received training in various visual processing, visual memory, and organization skills. She can now copy from the board and use her planner accurately most of the time. She is more organized and can remember where her homework is in her folder.

Jessica did an intensive processing skills program called PACE and before she finished the 12-week program, she had brought her grades up to As and Bs.

Don’t ignore attention problems in school
Problems paying attention in class can be a sign to parents that their child is struggling in school. This should not be ignored.

But parents and teachers should be aware that whenever an area of underlying processing or learning skills is inefficient, extra energy will be needed to perform. This stresses the person’s attention. It is important to look very carefully to determine if the attention challenges seen in class are the cause of the learning problem or the symptom.

At Therapeutic Literacy Center, we focus on enhancing and developing those processing skills that bring about the biggest impact on learning: Auditory Processing, Auditory-Visual Association, Comprehension, Processing Speed, Divided Attention, Selective Attention, Memory, Visualization, and dozens of other skill sets that many of us take for granted.  We address the cause, not merely the symptom.  Give us a call today to learn more about our programs and how we can help your child deal with Attention issues!

How Children with APD Become Masters of their Own Ears

For many families, raising a child with APD or CAPD means coping, understanding, and finding the right accommodations to help the child throughout the day. No medication has been found to help, and so far cognitive research has not produced any promising treatments. However, for families that do not take “no” as an answer, there is still one course of treatment that carries promise.

Therapeutic Literacy Center is a small educational therapy center located in Solana Beach, California. The focuses is on addressing the root of an individual’s struggles and developing the building blocks of learning. Instead of providing an educational Band-Aid to get students through the day, we seek to help students develop the executive function, processing skills, and core learning skills they need to excel in life.

There is currently no one-size-fits-all approach to helping children with APD to improve their symptoms. For this reason, Therapeutic Literacy Center works individually with each child to create a step-by-step program of learning activities and games.

We help with:

  • Understanding speech in noisy environments
  • Discerning different sounds in speech
  • Learning to spell
  • Developing active listening skills
  • Enhancing executive function
  • Building memory for different sounds

A child’s brain is more elastic than that of an adult, meaning it is easier and more natural to learn unattained skills. As of now, Therapeutic Literacy Center has successfully brought 20 children out of special education and into the regular classroom. TLC also provides support for children enrolled in homeschool.

TLC is ideal for children who would otherwise require speech therapy, tutoring, and a variety of other treatments from multiple locations. The specialized one-on-one program approach covers every aspect of your child’s learning. If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia, or struggles in school, but has not been diagnosed, or if your child suffers from multiple disorders, TLC may be the ideal space to seek treatment.

We would love to sit down with you and discuss hopes, expectations, struggles, and successes. Your story can help to illuminate your child’s strengths as well as areas in which we may focus our efforts. We are interested in the best outcome, whether that means developing valuable new skills or leaving special education behind. If you believe we could be of help to your child and family, we would love to meet you and talk further about how we can help you reach your goals.

7 Things Every Parent Should Know About Learning Challenges

Does your child have learning challenges? Here are 7 things you need to know in order to understand them, help them, and create a better future for them.

1. Attention problems are often a symptom, not the real issue
In her book, Why Our Children Can’t Read Dr. Diane McGuinness says, “The worse you are at something, the more brain cells you need to do it, the harder it is to keep doing it, and the harder it is to keep your attention focused on what you’re doing” When it takes more effort to do something, the brain burns more glucose, using energy, which can eventually lead to exhaustion. In order for the brain to efficiently process information, it has to regulate levels of attention.The two major attention control systems in the brain involve:

  • attending for a certain amount of time
  • being able to keep out distractions in the surrounding environment

Learning things that are difficult makes holding attention to that task, over a considerable span of time a struggle. When learning is difficult, the ability to block out distracting background or peripheral noises is stressed or decreased.

When new things are learned, or concepts are still a novelty, more energy is required from the brain to pay attention. Over time, with an efficient processing system, this effort to pay attention diminishes as tasks become more innate and automatic. However, if a student’s processing system is not working efficiently, it may take longer for skills to get to that comfortable, automatic level, increasing the likelihood of attention challenges .

The inability to pay attention is very often a symptom of inefficient information processing.

2. “Try harder” is a dirty term… 
Believe it or not, trying too hard can be counter-productive.In order to be an efficient learner of anything, we need to be able to use all of our mental resources. Our two hemispheres in the brain each have unique thinking capabilities which compliment each other and work best in cooperation.The right side of our brain let’s us experience the whole or the “big picture.” It is more intuitive and less structured.The left side is logical, orderly, and verbal. It allows us to break information into small bits in order to learn new things and communicate.When both hemispheres of brain work together, learning can be easier and more fun. Telling a struggling learner to “try harder” may actually cause him to “over focus” with the left side of the brain. He will try and try to make sense of the pieces, but without the “big picture” support of the right brain, he will become more confused and frustrated. Dr. Paul Dennison of the Educational Kinesiology Foundation calls this “switching off.”The cycle of being stuck can often be broken by movement. Integrating movements for this purpose can be found in Brain Gym activities.
( ) Our words can also help trigger clearer thinking for learning. Instead of saying, “Try harder,” try saying something like, “You got this part exactly right. Now let’s take a look at this.”

3. Respect the effort… 
Being smart but having to work harder and longer than anyone else in your class, or trying hard and failing anyway is painful for both the individuals with the learning challenges and their families.As we work with our children or our students with learning difficulties, we first need to respect the great amount of extra effort that is needed for them to perform. Constantly reinforcing that effort and celebrating each small success encourages them to keep going.

4. Coping is NOT the final answer… 
All of us have both stronger and weaker areas of ability, talent, and interest. WE naturally gravitate toward those things that are our strengths, and often find ways to get around the weaker areas.As an adult, if you am terrible at playing tennis, you may choose to cope with that by not playing tennis. But what if the area that is weakest for you is reading? “Getting around” it or just coping with a reading disorder is not easy or comfortable in today’s society.Those of us who work with the “learning disability” / dyslexic population, do them a great disservice if we do not seek to understand and address the underlying skills and differences in thinking that cause the learning challenges. Teaching them compensations and coping strategies is simply not enough. 

5. Look at the whole child… 
If your child/student is not performing to his potential academically, you may want to ask these questions to understand the variety of factors that affect a child’s academic performance.:

  1. Does my child enjoy learning?
  2. Is my child eating a variety of healthy foods?
  3. Is my child getting enough sleep and maintaining good sleep patterns?
  4. Does my child independently complete homework and follow through on responsibilities?
  5. Is it easy for my child to communicate what he needs and wants?
  6. Is my child able to be kind, considerate and compassionate in social situations?
  7. Does my child have self-confidence and experience social acceptance?
  8. In general, does my child feel safe and protected at home and school?
  9. Do I know my child’s strengths and weaknesses? Does my child lack skills to perform successfully at school?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, take a look at what piece of the learning puzzle they affect. If it’s a matter of changing dietary habits or improving sleeping patterns, these are things that can be worked out in the home.

However, if communicating is difficult for your child, or if s/he has low self-confidence, low social acceptance, or struggles to independently complete his work, there could be underlying factors to your child’s difficulties in school that need consideration.

6. Underlying processing skills MUST be addressed in order to make lasting changes 
The most common cause of learning challenges is inefficient mental tools, or processing skills.In order to have good information to learn with, individuals must be able to:

  1. Pay attention
  2. Remember
  3. Quickly and accurately process what they see and hear

When any underlying processing skills are weak, the individual will be a less efficient learner than she/he could be.

A person has a learning problem if he makes more mistakes than the average person or has to work longer or harder than the average person. Only by addressing the underlying issues can the individual become a truly independent learner. Underlying processing skills that affect learning are memory, attention, processing speed, auditory and language processing, visual processing, and logic and reasoning.

7. The brain can change… 
Recent brain research tells us that the brain has plasticity , or the ability to change with training. Through intensive training that “stretches” an individual’s thinking, chemical and physical changes can occur in the brain. Because we know this kind of “neuro-rehabilitation” is possible, we also know that with the right tools and strategies, new, higher functioning neuropathways can be developed to enhance a student’s overall processing and performance.Our brains are continually modified by our experiences. This implies that programs which target processing and motor skills can improve those areas in students with brain injuries or motor or learning disabilities.  (More about Plasticity)


Recognizing and Overcoming Attention Focus Challenges

How can I possibly know whether my kid is just goofing off or he’s having real difficulty paying attention?  In a Reader’s Digest article, the author asks his son to put on his shoes. The father’s request marked the beginning of a woeful tale of a dad’s rise to total frustration and a Having trouble staying on task, completing assignments may be symptoms of attention challengesyoung boy’s complete obliviousness as the words  “…entered his left ear, and before they could penetrate his brain, [were] ejected out his right ear at nearly the speed of light.”  When the father finally yells his request, his son Robert has no idea why his dad could possibly be so irritated.

Sound familiar to you?

What so many people want to know about Robert is this:  Does this mean that Robert has Attention Deficit Disorder (A.D.D.)?

Probably not. But then,attention focus problems occur in everyone from time to time, not just to those with A.D.D. Let’s face it, we all have problems focusing our attention at times. Attention focus becomes a problem only when it is out of our control…when it controls us and interferes with our learning and daily lives.

Recognizing and Overcoming Attention Focus Challenges:  Three Categories of Common Attention Disruption

Attention focus problems have many “faces.” There are different types and they may look different on different people. The good news is that most can be overcome with proper training. Below are three broad categories of common attention focus disruption and some of the issues, or symptoms,that individuals may be dealing with daily.

Excessive Activity (constant movement, either physical or mental)
For these individuals, the body is in constant motion and out of control. They have too much unchanneled physical energy. They always seem to be playing with something, can’t seem to stay in their seat, and in fact, often prefer to work standing up.  Mentally their attention may be jumping from one thought to another too fast to fully absorb anything.

Some have an inability to filter out unimportant things and focus on what is relevant. They pay equal attention to everything. The ability to focus on the important stimuli and let everything else be in the background is called figure-ground. A child with an auditory figure ground problem may find the hum of the air conditioner, feet shuffling, pencils writing, a classmate whispering, and a page turning to be equally as loud and demanding of his or her attention as the teacher’s voice.

A person with a visual figure ground problem may live in a world that looks like a page from Where’s Waldo . They see everything but nothing stands out as important. On a written page, the white spaces may stand out as prominently as the letters, making it almost impossible to focus on anything.

Distractibility (external and internal)
Distractibility is different from figure-ground in that the individuals can focus their attention on something. But they tend to shift their focus easily and remain there instead of shifting back to what they were doing. Distractions may be external or internal. Individuals with creative, active minds can often wander way off target and become absorbed in their own visualizations, triggered perhaps by a single word that they heard or read.

Many dyslexic and A.D.D. individuals are highly intelligent and highly visual. They often tend to be creative, “right-brained” thinkers, who think in concepts and pictures. They may have the ability to see in dimension, to mentally “see” objects from all sides. This perceptual talent lends itself to drawing, building, putting things together, and recalling concrete or visual information.

Disorientation is the loss of focus triggered by confusion – for these individuals is almost always associated with efforts to work with symbols or to listen . When the person experiences confusion about symbols (such as letters or numbers), his brain really wants to understand. If this person, who can easily “see” in dimension, goes to his most comfortable thinking style, he can perceive the letter or word from different angles, recoding different images of the word or letter in his mind and making it hard to retrieve.

Disorientation can be triggered by overwhelm, particularly with language. If there seems to be too much information, the individual may become disoriented and lose track of what is going on around him.

Another common characteristic of disorientation is that it often throws-off a person’s internal time clock. He or she may start working or talking extremely fast or extremely slowly. A student who loses his focus may find at the end of a 20 minute math period that he has written only one problem. He truly doesn’t know where the time has gone and may be angry at the teacher for not giving the class time to do the assignment.

Strategies For Teaching Attention Focus 
Children and adults with these types of attention focus problems are not in control of their attention and generally do not recognize when they have gotten distracted or disoriented. Many things can be done to help a child to be more successful at paying attention at any one moment. The atmosphere of the Learning Center, when the students work one-to-one in a quiet place is set-up for it. The clinicians can sit close to the students and constantly refocus them. Unfortunately, the “real world” isn’t like that.

To be independent learners, children must also be taught how to attend. The Therapeutic Literacy Center is built on the premise that children and adults with at least average intellectual potential can and should become proficient readers. We believe that about attention focus also. Children and adults CAN learn to be in control of their own attention.

There are several different techniques that can be employed to facilitate attention control, including Edu-K, Orientation Counseling, and floor balance and balance beam work. While most of these strategies require training to use them properly, there are some basic steps critical to any attention focus training.

First, the individual must learn to recognize what it feels like to be “on” (focused) and “off” (unfocused).

Have the student walk forward and backward on a line on the floor, keeping his eyes focused on a spot on the wall. Or have the student toss and catch a beanbag, keeping his eyes on the beanbag as it goes up and down.

Guide the student verbally using a slow, soft voice. The key is for the student to be able to wok on the line or toss the beanbag with slow, controlled movements. As the student gains control of his balance and movements, he is also increasing his attention control. Through questioning, help him to think about what it feels like to be focused. Help him “remember” this feeling so that he can transfer it to homework, schoolwork, etc.

Second, guide the student in recognizing what happens, what he does, when is “off” or loses his focus (eyes defocus, turns pale, looks around, starts talking or writing at warp speed, stumbles over words, slows/slurs his speech, etc.).

Third, the student and teacher or parent must recognize what triggered the confusion or loss of focus. The confusion must be eliminated or the confusing pieces (such as letters or words) must be mastered.

And finally, the student must have a strategy for getting back “on.” This can often be done by applying the same techniques that were used in step one.

Permission to Pay Attention
Individuals sometimes need to be taught to give themselves permission to refocus their attention. For example, one of our students became very distracted by the sound of a metronome in an adjacent room. His session was totally disrupted because he could not stop listening to it.

However, after exploring what the noise was, and practicing giving himself permission to stop listening to it, he was able, on several later occasions to say, “Oh, I know what the clicking noise is. I don’t have to listen to that anymore” and return to his task. Students can learn to give themselves permission to quit paying attention to classroom distractions such as the pencil sharpener, in this way also.

Programs and References for Attention Focus Techniques 
Davis. R. Davis Orientation Master Training (Inservice Training services) Burlingame, CA: Reading Research Council. (1799 Old Bayshore Highway, Suite 248, Burlingame, CA 94010 Dennison, P. and Dennison, G. (1989) Brain Gym: Teacher’s Edition. (Manual to explain, instruct, and facilitate movement activities for whole brain learning (Glendale, CA: Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc. (P.O. Box 5002, Glendale, CA 91201) Smith, J.M. (1991) You Don’t Have To Be Dyslexic. Sacramento, CA: Learning Time Publications (4436 Engle Road, Sacramento, CA)