Understanding the Two Types of Attention Deficit Disorders

Not all children with attention deficit disorders suffer from hyperactivity

Frustrated teacher and misbehaving students
Frustrated teacher and misbehaving students. ranplett/Vetta/Getty Images

Attention deficit disorders come in two distinct types. The first form, ADD with hyperactivity, is marked by impulsive and excessively energetic behavior. The second type, ADD without hyperactivity, is characterized mostly by inattentive behavior and does not involve the behavior excesses of ADHD. 

Both forms of attention disorder are usually first noticed in childhood, typically when children enter daycare or school and experience social and behavioral problems.

Both Forms of Attention Disorder Have Adverse Effects

Attention deficit disorders of both types can affect learning, grades and interactions with peers and adults. Attention deficit disorders may coexist with learning disabilities, but not all children with attention deficit disorder have other types of disabilities. Children with attention deficit disorders can have any level of intellectual functioning from well above to well below average.

The Frequency of ADD

About one out of 30 children has attention deficit disorders of either type. However, not all children who show symptoms associated with ADHD actually have the disorder. ADHD-like behaviors can also be caused by social maladjustment, inconsistent discipline, traumatic experiences at home or school and other life stressors such as divorce.

It is necessary for children suspected of having ADHD to be carefully evaluated to rule out other factors that may be causing the problem.

A thorough evaluation will include assessments of the child's behavior over time and in a variety of settings. A medical checkup is also a must to help rule out any other medical conditions that could be contributing to the behavior problems. In most cases, an evaluation for ADHD will also include an assessment of intelligence and achievement to help determine if learning problems are a concern as well.

Problems Unique to Children With ADD

Children with ADD have difficulty focusing for long periods and are forgetful. They often forget to complete their homework and when they do get it done, they're likely to lose it before turning in the assignment.

Listening and paying attention in class is difficult for them, and they have difficulty following multi-step directions. They often feel overwhelmed by assignments and may simply choose not to do them. Getting themselves organized to complete projects is beyond their reach without help. They may appear lazy and unmotivated, when they are actually confused and frustrated.

In some cases, these children are capable of becoming very engaged and attentive when doing activities they like. This can lead adults to overlook that they have ADD. Instead, they think the children are simply noncompliant.

The Struggles of Children With ADHD

Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder have a lot of motor energy and often fidget and wiggle in their seats. They may often be louder than appropriate and appear out of control. They are likely to have many referrals for discipline because they blurt out comments in class, interrupt others, have difficulty with turn taking and often cannot follow rules like keeping their hands to themselves.

They often hurt themselves while playing and may hurt others without meaning to do so. They may also show overly emotional behavior.

Wrapping Up

Treatment for children with ADD and ADHD usually involves behavior management plans, social skills training and counseling for both the child and adult caregivers. Therapy focuses on setting reasonable rules and maintaining consistent discipline and behavior management.

In the more significant cases, children may be treated with stimulant medication. The use of medication is controversial, however, and should be carefully researched by the parents and evaluated by the child's physician to determine if the benefits outweigh the risks for the child.

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