Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is not always due to genetics and neurochemistry. Some children have symptoms of poor attention span and hyperactivity caused by environmental factors. Consider this to be the case if the symptoms are of recent onset. Most children with true ADHD have symptoms first noticed during the second year of life. The following are some conditions that masquerade as ADHD:
- First: Sleep deprivation. Inadequate sleep causes confusion, forgetfulness and poor listening skills. Does your school-age child get at least 8 hours of sleep at night? Does he watch late-night TV without your knowledge?
- Second: Scary movies. R-rated, violent movies frighten young children. Many children less than 12 years old are overwhelmed by horror movies. The visual memories of grisly, gory events resurface throughout the day, causing flashbacks that interrupt normal studying and thinking. In adults, this is called the post traumatic stress disorder. Are you protecting your child from the sexual violence and mad slashers available through TV, cable and movies?
- Third: Hunger. Hunger interferes with focusing on school work. Did your child have breakfast? Did it contain more than sugar-coated cereal? Sugar can make children sleepy. Make sure your child has a glass of milk or some yogurt as part of breakfast.
- Fourth: Hearing or vision problems. Any child with ADHD needs to have hearing and vision checked. If children cannot hear the teacher clearly, they may tune out. If they cannot see the blackboard, they may give up on doing assignments. Most children who develop nearsightedness first need glasses in the 3rd or 4th grade.
- Fifth: Stress. Stress can cause a poor attention span. If children are preoccupied with family problems, they cannot completely focus on their schoolwork. Their mind keeps switching over to the worries they have about what is happening at home. Some common stressors are tension in the marriage, illness in a parent or sibling, alcohol or drug abuse in a parent, a death in the family or a serious accident. If any of these problems are present in your family, seek family counseling.
- Finally: Children with true ADHD are more vulnerable to these environmental factors. Poor sleep, hunger and stress can make ADHD symptoms far worse than they need to be. Make sure your child does not have this added burden.
If you have other questions about ADHD, consult your healthcare provider.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.
Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D. FAAP
Last Review: 6/1/2008
Last Revised: 9/1/2004
Copyright 1994-2008 Barton Schmitt, M.D. Parent Advice Messages.