Does My Easily Distracted Son Have ADHD?
By Dr. Joseph Gianesin, Behavioral Consultant
I've noticed that my 5-year-old has an issue with keeping focused on what is asked of him. When I ask him why he didn't listen, he says he forgot. He promptly says he's sorry and then will turn around and do it again. When I ask him why he said he was sorry, said he would not do it again and then did, he says that he couldn't help it.
He's very bright and sociable. His teacher has now contacted me at least five times since school started with what she considers "disruptive behavior." One involved him making a gift for another friend against school policy. Another was regarding him not following her directions and having to repeat herself. Another involved talking to his friends and in her words, "disrupting their learning." Most recently, she said he left the class area to get water without asking for permission.
When I spoke to him about it, he said he was thirsty and that the teacher had not told him he could not leave the class area to drink water. Their classroom is set up in a community-type environment and he does not literally leave a given room, but rather a given area, to go to a common area a few feet away.
I'm not sure what part is typical 5-year-old behavior and which part is more serious, such as perhaps ADHD. What can I do to help him?
It is hard to answer some of your initial questions without knowing more about the situation. As you described, your son is having difficulty staying focused, listening and following directions from both you and his teacher. You are interested in knowing whether this is developmental or whether this might be something more serious, such as ADHD.
Most 5-year-olds, especially boys, have difficulty at this age with the skills you have described. Kindergarten is usually a time for them to learn these new skills and be socialized to a school setting and its behavioral expectations.
I am reluctant to jump on the ADHD diagnosis this early. Questions I would ask you to clarify are whether he attended a preschool or day care setting, and if so did he display the same types of behavior? Can he concentrate and stay on task for 25-30 minutes of time? Is he impulsive and easily distracted? These questions may help clarify whether it is developmental or something more serious.
Generally, professionals inquire where the problem behaviors are occurring. If they are present in all of the child's environments (home, school, scouts, etc.), then we often deduct that there must be something more serious we need to investigate and assess.
At this point, you need to observe and monitor his progress developmentally. Try the following techniques to help him improve his ability to focus and listen.
- First, give only one or two directional commands such as: "Pick up your toys and put them in the box." Many kids with mild ADHD or inattentiveness cannot handle three or more directional commands.
- Second, have your son repeat back to you what you have requested of him. "Tell me what I just asked you do."
- Third, make sure you get good eye contact and that his attention is focused on you before you make the request.
- Fourth, reward him when he follows through with what you have asked by praising him for doing it right.
You can try these techniques to see if they are effective with him. If they are, request a meeting with the teacher to share your success and your techniques. If this doesn't work, you should consult your school counselor or school social worker who can assist you in thinking through the next steps. These mental health professionals have knowledge about these type of issues and know resources in the community that can be of great assistance to you.
Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.