The external symptoms of general boredom and ADHD can seem very similar. If your child isn’t excelling at school and struggles with focusing on tasks, there are a number of questions to ask. Both can cause them to be easily distracted and disruptive. Both can lead to work not being completed and slow progress at school. So how do you know if your kid is bored or struggling with ADHD?
When kids start school, a new parenting era begins. You put your trust in an institution to give your child the best education and social encouragement, hoping they will grow up to be everything they want and can be. Before I was a teacher myself, I had no idea how different kids were, how varied their educational needs are, and how many kids don’t quite fit the mold.
I taught in a UK secondary school (ages 12-18) and despite being a mainstream school, we had a particularly large proportion of special needs kids. Before teaching I wasn’t sure I believed in diagnosed ADHD… maybe those kids were just fidgety and lacked boundaries? Having now taught many kids with and without ADHD I can safely say there is a clear difference. And ADHD is very real.
Our Struggle with Lack of Focus
My daughter is about to turn eight… it’s such a fun age but the school work is ramping up. She has struggled with a lack of focus since kindergarten and we even moved schools to a Montessori education to try and tackle the issue with a difference style of teaching.
She’s always been extremely bright, very loud and energetic. She’s kooky, to say the least, but totally adorable and I wouldn’t change her for the world. When she repeatedly wasn’t completing school work, we knew something wasn’t right, she doesn’t find the content difficult, so what else was going on? She’s only second grade, but we want to nip these issues in the bud now before we’re dealing with a teenager who can’t progress.
She’s always been dramatic and emotional, and battles with phobias such as bugs (read more about that –> here). Her anxiety, disorganization, and difficulty focusing were flagged to us by her school two years running and after discussion with their special needs leader, we decided to go ahead with an internal evaluation to decide if she is just bored or struggling with ADHD.
Symptoms: Bored or Struggling with ADHD?
We’ve all seen a bored kid in action… fidgety, attention seeking, whiny, in extreme cases withdrawn and sulky. Some of these symptoms overlap with indicators of ADHD, and therefore you find yourself, like us, requiring further testing to hone in on the problem.
The web resource ‘Understood’, has a great checklist of symptoms for ADHD based on age group.
Our daughter, Elsie ticks every box on the list… except one. She can’t sit still, she talks a lot, she forgets simple directions, she has trouble getting started with new tasks and routines. But, she does not have trouble recalling facts she has learned. In fact, she’s quite the opposite, she is a sponge for facts and knowledge. Despite not getting her work done, you can verbally teach her how to do something once and she’s got it… permanently.
Still, I taught plenty of kids in my top Science sets with ADHD, maybe she’s gifted but also struggling with an attention disorder?
We were asked by our school to talk to our pediatrician about a formal diagnosis. I was reluctant to do this because I do not want to medicate her. It’s our personal choice as parents, and we both agreed that medication was not something we wanted to explore. However, we did want to find out if we were dealing with ADHD, because if diagnosed Elsie would have access to additional help within the school system to allow her to succeed.
We were internally evaluated within the school system by:
- A meeting with her teacher and the special needs leader to discuss the issues we were facing,
- A multiple choice questionnaire for us the parents to flag unusual behavior. The quiz asked about emotional reactions, day to day routines and social interactions.
- A similar questionnaire for her teacher.
- Interview and testing with the child at school by a child phycologist.
- A meeting to discuss results.
During testing, Elsie was given an IQ test and talked to about how she was feeling and general chit-chat. The phycologist was looking to see how she dealt with the unusual circumstances, the test and conversation with a stranger.
Strategy for Improvement
A couple of weeks after evaluation we sat down with Elsie’s teacher and the special needs leader to discuss the outcome of the testing. The phycologist said she was very focused during the test, seemed to enjoy it and although was a little anxious about why she was there, was very excited and happy to talk.
The phycologist came to the conclusion Elsie is extremely bright, with a high IQ and is easily bored with school work. He confirmed she is a little anxious at times but not to a level we should be concerned at this point. We were given advice about teaching style to suit her needs:
- She will not respond well to repeating tasks she has already succeeded at. Some children require repetition to learn, others are easily bored by it.
- She requires higher level content to remain interested, some books and activities from the middle school can be introduced.
This was exciting news because boredom is much more manageable for her (and us!) than ADHD. At this point, we are happy with the evaluation process and pleased we have some strategies to put in place. This is not a medical diagnosis, but I am confident in the process and the outcome, and we can always return to our pediatrician if we are concerned in the future.
Elsie’s teacher has worked hard to implement some new classroom strategies to help her focus and she has been doing great. For the first time in three years, she is completing tasks and seems excited to be working hard. She has found a new friend in class who I’ve been calling her life-coach, because she’s been giving Elsie tips on how to concentrate. Yay for the positive influences from peers!
We have been able to jump through some of the repetitive math work which was really stunting her progress and she’s now working hard on multiplication, something she finds challenging. I’m keeping my fingers crossed she can keep up the hard work and we will not have to return to any formal testing for ADHD.
To help with her slight hyperactivity, we’ve been keeping her active and have taken up soccer, which she loves. And her teacher sends a fidgety bunch out for a morning run about with the PE teacher to help them burn off the excess beans!
She will always be a little wacky and doesn’t fit the standard mold in the classroom. But, if us as parents and her teachers can adjust to her needs, she has the opportunity to fly and succeed in the future.
Final Words on ADHD
If you’re concerned your child may be struggling with ADHD, talk to your teacher and/or pediatrician. Evaluation and putting strategies in place take time and therefore the earlier you find out what is going on the better. There are many ways to tackle ADHD which do not involve medication.
I’ll leave you with another fab resource for ADHD… I love this article –> Never Punish a Child for Behavior Outside His Control. Many of the kids I taught with ADHD were branded the ‘naughty’ kids when in truth they are just having a rough time conforming to the standard classroom environment.